Mississippi Forestry Commission officials have issued a statewide wildland fire alert and are discouraging the public from all burning activities until further notice.
The alert was issued Thursday due to the current drought conditions and predicted weather pattern for the next week, which is calling for dry and windy conditions.
The National Weather Service has also placed Oktibbeha County and most of central Mississippi under a “fire weather watch” through 7 p.m. today, with the possibility of an extension.
A fire weather watch means that low humidity levels, the lack of rainfall and windy conditions with the potential for gusts could spread a wildfire across dry grasslands and forest areas rapidly. The Weather Service, along with the Forestry Commission, is discouraging outdoor burning.
“These conditions, combined with the high winds and low humidity expected from the approaching dry cold fronts, create an increased risk for devastating wildland fires,” Forestry Commission officials said in a statement.
Fire crews in all of the Forestry Commission’s districts across the state have been placed on call this weekend to facilitate quick response for any wildfires that occur. All Forestry Commission district offices stopped issuing burn permits beginning Friday.
As of Friday morning, 21 Mississippi counties — including neighboring Winston, Lowndes and Clay counties and several others within a short drive from Oktibbeha County — have enacted burn bans. The number of counties with burn bans is expected to increase, Forestry Commission officials said.
Officials in Louisville have also imposed a ban on all outdoor burning of natural vegetation such as grass, wood, limbs, straw or hay in the open. Excluded are outdoor fires in confined fireplaces, grills and barbecues.
The Forestry Commission’s wildland fire alert comes in the wake of two wildfires that occurred in Oktibbeha County on Thursday.
An afternoon fire in the Craig Springs area of south Oktibbeha County ravaged an estimated 200 acres of grass and woodland area. A second wildfire in the Oktoc area in southeast Oktibbeha County also burned several acres of land.
“Until hazardous conditions improve, we ask every to use caution while doing outdoor activities and to not do any outdoor burning, which includes logging debris, prescribed burning, small brush piles, trash piles and camp fires. With the opining of the first deer season this weekend and more people in the forest, we ask that people be cautious of ignition sources, such as discarding cigarette butts,” Forestry Commission officials said in a statement.
“Under these conditions, it only takes one spark to start a devastating wildfire.”
Anyone who spots a wildfire is encouraged to immediately dial 911.