“Our (firefighting) resources are spread very thin right now,” said Walker County Forest Ranger Technician Bartley Wyers, who on Tuesday helped contain a nearly 3,000-acre wildfire in the Adger community in west Jefferson County.
In addition to the Adger wildfire, forest rangers also worked this week to contain a 1,000-acre blaze in Baldwin County.
Forestry officials say the magnitude of the wildfires have been influenced by three factors: widespread drought conditions, an abundance of storm debris that serve as fuel sources and state budget cuts that have forced the Alabama Forestry Commission to lay off hundreds of workers.
Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday signed an Emergency Drought Condition Declaration prohibiting outdoor burning in all 67 counties in Alabama.
According to a press release, the no-burn order makes it illegal “for a person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wild lands or marshes, to build a campfire or bonfire, or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire.”
Steve Lamkin, an investigator with the commission, said unauthorized burning is now considered a misdemeanor in which violators could face a $250 to $500 fine and six months in a county jail.
Both Lamkin and Wyers also stressed that those who set a fire during a no-burn order are liable for any damages caused by the blaze.
The order also prohibits the burning of storm debris — except for sites with approval from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Lamkin said only two sites in Walker County have such authorization, and both are in Cordova.
Lamkin said forestry investigators will be patrolling throughout the state looking for violators of the order, and no warnings will be issued. Wyers added that the cities of Jasper, Dora, Sumiton and Cordova also have ordinances against burning that local law enforcement officers will enforce.
“We’ve had good cooperation (from residents) so far — a lot better than I expected,” Lamkin said. “I hope the citizens of Alabama understand how bad the forestry commission is hurting as far as personnel and equipment ... We need their cooperation if we are going to survive this summer drought without a catastrophe”
Wyers said the no-burn order not only helps reduce strain on forest rangers, but fire departments throughout the state, who also use valuable resources fighting wildfires.
“If we can avoid wildfires, it will free them up for structure fires and medical calls,” he said.
For more information about the Alabama Forestry Commission, log on to www.forestry.state.al.us and to report illegal burning, call the commission’s arson hotline at 1-800-222-2927.