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Drought Emergency declared in north Alabama, here’s what that means

Image: MGN Online / Andy Price / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Image: MGN Online / Andy Price / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Governor Robert Bentley issued a Drought Emergency Declaration for north and central Alabama because to extremely dry conditions. These declarations are often referred to as a ‘No Burn Order’.

What does this mean for you? Here are answers from the Alabama Forestry Commission to commonly asked questions

WHAT IS A DROUGHT EMERGENCY DECLARATION? 

Section 9-13-141 of the Code of Alabama states: “at such time as the state forestry commission has declared by regulation a drought emergency in any county or counties, it shall be unlawful in such county or counties for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes or to build a campfire or bonfire or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire.”

Specifically, the regulation prohibits any prescribed burns, any campfire or bonfire, any trash or debris fires, or any other open burning.

DO THE REGULATIONS COVER BARBEQUES?

The regulations allow barbeque fires for cooking IF the fire is in a grill or masonry barbeque pit, including large barbeque pits used by civic organizations to prepare food. Anyone grilling or barbequing during the Drought Emergency should have water hoses on site to prevent any loose sparks from setting a wildfire, and a circle at least 10 feet wide around the grill should be cleared of any burnable material. Side fires to generate coals for a barbeque must also be within a grill or masonry pit. Gas grills are allowed.

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE “CAMPFIRE OR BONFIRE” PROHIBITION?

Campfires or bonfires include any fire that is burned on bare ground, even if surrounded by stones or a metal fire ring. This definition includes campfires, ceremonial fires, ‘council’ fires, bonfires, ‘warming’ fires, and cooking fires that are on bare ground and not in a masonry lined ‘pit.’

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE “TRASH OR DEBRIS FIRE” PROHIBITION?

Trash and debris fires include burning of woody debris, yard waste, garbage, construction debris or any other material, in either an open pit or in a barrel. At this time, people should not burn a debris pile until the Drought Emergency is lifted.

WHAT OTHER THINGS ARE INCLUDED IN THE DROUGHT EMERGENCY?

The intent of the Drought Emergency Declaration is to prevent catastrophic wildfires during drought conditions. No one should use an open flame in or around a woodland setting. At campsites, closed lanterns may be used, but no open flames such as candles or ‘tiki’ torches. Care should also be exercised in suburban areas where lawns are very dry as well.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING THESE REGULATIONS?

Under Section 9-13-142, Code of Alabama, anyone found guilty of violating these regulations and improperly conducting open burning in a Drought Emergency-declared area shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than $250, nor more than $500, and at the discretion of the court, that person may also be sentenced to the county jail for up to six months.

Additionally, any person burning in violation of the Drought Emergency Declaration will be liable for damages to the property of another and any costs associated with the suppression of said fire. Suppression costs would include equipment and personnel costs related to control or extinguish the wildfire.