The arrival of spring means outdoor chores are at the top of the to-do list for homeowners. But outdoor burning, coupled with the season's weather conditions, raises the risk of wildfire for Mississippians.
Don Bales, senior Extension associate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center, said debris burning is one of the leading causes of wildfires in Mississippi.
The state observes Wildfire Prevention Month in March to remind residents to follow proper outdoor burning practices to reduce the likelihood of wildfire. Historically, wildfires happen more often in February, March and April in Mississippi because vegetation is dormant, humidity is low and winds are high, Bales said.
For the fiscal year July 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012, Mississippi lost 20,056 acres to 1,865 wildfires, according to the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Bales encouraged homeowners to take the proper precautions when doing any type of burning on their properties.
"Anyone can burn on his or her own property," Bales said. "But they should make sure they choose to burn when the conditions are the least likely to cause the fire to get out of hand."
Homeowners and landowners can take preventive steps to reduce the threat of wildfire.
Mississippi follows the regulations of the National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities Program. The program recommends homeowners keep a reasonable amount of defensible space between the home and an approaching fire. The landscape should be healthy and well-watered with little or no flammable material within 30 to 100 feet of the home.
Extension publication 2315, "Living with Fire: A Guide for Management," outlines steps to help reduce the chance of fire in the home landscape and can be found at http://www.msucares.com. For more information on the Firewise program, visit www.firewise.org.
Landowners with timber stands and heavily wooded forests can reduce the risk of wildfire with prescribed burning.
"We like to say good fires prevent bad fires," Bales said. "Prescribed burns decrease the amount of flammable materials that feed a fire."
Bales said landowners who want to conduct a prescribed burn must follow the regulations set out by the Mississippi Prescribed Burning Act of 1992. Individuals who conduct prescribed burns must obtain a burn permit from the Mississippi Forestry Commission, have a prescribed fire practitioner on site, and prepare and notarize a prescription burn plan.
The prescription burn must also be considered in the public interest. Responsible burning reduces the landowner's liability in case the fire gets out of control.
Alert landowners can also prevent wildfire by regularly monitoring their property.
Ed Brown, forestry educator with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, said arson is another of the most common causes for wildfire in Mississippi.
"Landowners should make sure they keep an eye on their property," Brown said. "Not everyone respects others and their property. People will enter private property and dump trash and start fires. We also have seen fires deliberately set because of disputes over hunting land."
Extension publication 2470, "Managing the Family Forest" and publication 2283, "Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests: Fire Ecology, Techniques and Uses for Wildlife Management" give detailed information about prescribed burning and can be found at http://www.msucares.com.
For more information about wildfire prevention, visit the Mississippi Forestry Commission's website at www.mfc.ms.gov.