By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The city of Starkville is officially under a burn ban effective immediately.
“Due to extreme temperatures in the area and little to no rain in the last recent weeks, the Starkville Fire Department has issued a city wide burn ban in effect until further notice,” said Fire Marshall Mark McCurdy.
Going several weeks without significant rain has created hazardous conditions, increasing the likelihood of a small fire getting out of control.
“The weather service is not predicting in substantial rain fall in the near future. Anytime the ground is this dry it makes conditions favorable for grass fires. We have seen an increase lately in grass fires in our area,” McCurdy said. “Sometimes individuals will throw a cigarette out the car window, not thinking much about it, and will ignite a grass fire. When it’s this dry it makes it very easy for a small grass fire turn into a large fire very quickly. By being proactive and conducting the burn ban, we are trying to prevent any fires from damaging property or homes.”
Citizens caught burning during the ban will be fined $500, plus any additional costs incurred by the city for extinguishment.
“We will lift the burn ban once the area has received a considerable amount of rain,” McCurdy said.
The county, however, has not declared a burn ban. And as summer kicks into high gear, controlled burns are becoming more common throughout the county.
Unfortunately, Oktibbeha County 911 has experienced a rash of calls for these burns, dispatching firefighters to what turn out to be non-emergency situations.
“What happens is you’ve got 15 or 20 volunteers running across the county, going out to the fire and that puts them in jeopardy,” said Greg Ball of the East Oktibbeha Volunteer Fire Department. “When we have to take the trucks out, it burns up our fuel money and the county money.”
While permits are not required to burn in Oktibbeha County, the forestry commission will issue a permit for free as long as the weather conditions are favorable for outdoor burning.
“We’re just asking that people call the forestry commission’s 800 number and get a burn permit,” said Ball. “Forestry will take into calculation the weather forecast, like wind, how dry it is, where the smoke will travel and things like that.”
Forestry will also be able to answer any safety questions someone might have about outdoor burning.
Oktibbeha County Emergency Management also asks that residents contact them, as well, before starting a controlled fire.
“We just want to know the location of the controlled burn. It saves us a lot of misunderstandings,” said Jim Britt, director of Oktibbeha 911. “We’ll be glad to talk to them about it, and we certainly will want to know about it ahead of time.”
Concerned citizens should not be discouraged from calling 911, however, if they do see a fire. The dispatcher will know if it is a planned, controlled burn, or an emergency situation.
County residents can contact the forestry commission for a burn permit at 1-800-681-8760. To inform emergency management about a controlled burn, call (662) 338-1084.