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Officials: Use common sense with controlled burns

March 23, 2012

By CARL SMITH
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

As the season fully transitions into spring, area fire officials want Oktibbeha County residents to be safe when attempting any sort of controlled burn.

Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said his volunteer fire departments receive numerous calls in response to grass and brush fires through the spring and summer.

“We get a lot of grass, brush and wood fires when temperatures go up and rainfall drops. Grass fires can easily spread to structures, farm machinery and timber while causing traffic hazards from the smoke,” Rosenhan said. “Even though everything is turning green, we still have dead vegetation left over from fall and winter. We’ll probably see several dozen trash and grass fires in the county.”

While burn permits are required in Starkville, they are not in outlying county areas. If someone chooses to burn in the county, Rosenhan said they should alert their local volunteer fire department prior to the event.

“Land owners (who choose to burn) should minimize dead trees and vegetation, have a fire line, choose a day that’s not windy and make sure the burn is always attended,” he said. “They should always have a shovel and a rake handy, and if the fire is near a structure, hopefully they’ll have a garden hose or water source. We would remind people that it is illegal to burn tires and chemicals due to environmental regulations.”

Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann attributes the small number of grass fires in town to strict burn requirements.

“Grass fires are a small part of what we do in part because of the burn requirements we have in place. I’d say less than 2 percent of our runs are grass fires,” he said. “Recently we had a truck that was hauling some type of chemical (which had a) reaction that occurred in the back of the truck and it got to sparking. It had little spot fires down (Highways) 25 and 82 — those things are going to happen.”

In Starkville, residents and commercial entities are required to have a burn permit. Residential permits are for small burn exercises, while commercial permits typically entail a larger area, Mann said. Permitted residential burns are only allowed during daytime hours, but permitted commercial burns are allowed at any hour.

“The resident has specific requirements to obtain a permit: a water hose that will reach all the way around (a burn area), adult supervision, specific burn times and procedures,” Mann said. “ (Commercial burn permits are issued to individuals) that have demonstrated knowledge of being able to handle equipment. We require a certain amount of equipment on hand and (24-hour monitoring). The last four commercial bans we’ve had we’ve gotten zero complaints.”

SFD can issue burn bans for the city, but countywide burn bans are issued by the state forestry commission, Rosenhan said. Mann said his department continuously monitors weather conditions and issues bans when necessary.

“If it gets dry to the point where we feel it’s unsafe to let residents burn, that’s when we issue the burn ban. We feel like we’re very proactive on the burn ban area,” Mann said. “We look for our area regardless of whether the city of Jackson has placed a burn ban or Tupelo or Columbus. Occasionally we’ll have a burn ban on that Columbus won’t or vice versa. We’ve had some not-so-pleasant experiences several years back and we want to prevent that.”

The two main factors SFD uses to determine if a ban is needed are ground dryness and wind speeds.

“Believe it or not, green grass will burn — if it gets dry enough it will burn,” Mann said. “I’ve seen it burn many a time when it gets parching hot during the summer and there’s no moisture in the ground. Then we get that spark and the wind gets to pushing, and we all know what wind can do to a fire.”

Section editor Nathan Gregory contributed to this report.

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