By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, November 7, 2016, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) expanded the Drought Emergency Declaration to cover the entire State. The burn ban has been expanded to cover all 67 counties. All outdoor burning is now prohibited.
Gov. Bentley said, “Although 46 counties in North Alabama were already under the No Burn Order, it was necessary to add the remaining 21 counties in the southern part of the state because of alarming wildfire activity and continued lack of rainfall. The expansion of this No Burn Order is critical to keeping our citizens safe from the threat of wildfires and reducing the chance of avoidable fires.”
Interim State Forester Gary Cole of the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) said, “With these extremely dry conditions, any fire can quickly spread out of control. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen an increase not only in the number of wildfires that have occurred, but also the size,” Cole explained. “Several of these fires have been large, not only resulting in damage to our forests but also directly threatening residential areas. If not for the efforts of Forestry Commission firefighters and assistance from volunteer fire departments we would have lost homes.”
Cole said that since the first of October, a total of 1,421 wildfires have occurred in Alabama destroying approximately 15,409 acres of land. Last year during this same time frame, there were only 232 wildfires, burning 1,846 acres across the state.
AFC wildland firefighters are continuing to battle a 700 acre wildfire that started on Friday in Walker County. Other large wildfires burned in Baldwin, Coosa, and Wilcox counties affecting several property owners.
Under the Drought Emergency “No Burn” Order, Section 9-13-141 of the Code of Alabama states that it is illegal for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes; to build a campfire or bonfire; or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire.
Prescribed burns, campfires, bonfire, trash or debris fires, or any other open burning are hereby prohibited. If convicted, the penalty for violating the No Burn order is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.00.
The “No Burn” order will remain in effect until rescinded by the State Forester, at which time conditions will have changed sufficiently to reduce the occurrence and frequency of wildfires.
Gary M. Cole of Excel was recently been appointed as Interim State Forester by Governor Bentley. He will serve in this position until a new State Forester is selected. During his previous 38-year career with the AFC, Cole served in various positions including Southwest Regional Forester and Forest Management Division Director before retiring in 2014.
Cole earned his Bachelor of Science in Forest Management at Auburn University in 1985 and is a licensed registered forester in the state of Alabama.
Cole said, “It is an extreme honor to return to this outstanding agency that means so much to me. I am not sure how long my tenure will be, but I am dedicated to helping the AFC as much as I can. Our State is in the midst of a wildfire situation at this time and I fully understand what it takes from our wildland firefighters to protect the lives and property of our citizens. I am proud to serve with these dedicated employees who often put their lives on the line for others.”
To learn more about the AFC, visit www.forestry.alabama.gov.