Oak Mountain State Park under fire warning

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Alabama&8217;s largest state park is now one of its largest fire hazards.

With the Alabama Forestry Commission&8217;s (AFM) red flag warning issued last Thursday, officials at Oak Mountain State Park are entering a high alert mode to ensure that flames stay out of the park grounds.

Park Superintendent Jimmy Shivers said that the danger for a forest fire is even greater with campers flocking to Oak Mountain for Fourth of July festivities.

&8220;A lot of people don&8217;t understand the danger,&8221; Shivers said. &8220;They just don&8217;t think safety in a situation where they&8217;re working with a grill or campfire inside the park during dry weather like we&8217;re having.&8221;

The AFM posted the &8220;red flag&8221; warning in response to the dry weather conditions across the state of Alabama due to a lack of rain.

&8220;A red flag warning means that existing dry weather conditions could potentially contribute to extremely hazardous wildfire behavior,&8221; an AFM press release stated. &8220;Conditions are such that any fire can quickly spread out of control resulting in damage to Alabama&8217;s forests and rural homes.&8221;

The warning was in effect until today, but Shivers said there was a good chance that without a substantial amount of rain it could be extended even longer.

&8220;If it continues this way, we may have to stop all outside burning,&8221; he said. &8220;There&8217;s a significant chance that we&8217;ll have to do that.&8221;

According to the National Weather service, the Pelham area averaged 2.7 inches, or over 38 percent, less rain in the month of June than it would normally see.

Prior to this year, Pelham averaged 4.4 inches of rainfall in June. This year, however, the city has only seen 1.7 inches, rendering it a hotspot for potential forest fire activity.

The largest fire in Oak Mountain State Park in the past decade was in 2001, Shivers said. That fired burned nearly 40 acres of land before it was extinguished.

Shivers said he hopes a wildfire academy that the park held earlier this year would help alleviate the chances of a wildfire spreading in the park.

The park hosted classes on controlled burning and smoke management – burning a large amount of debris on the park&8217;s forest floors in the process.

&8220;You can&8217;t have a fire without fuel,&8221; Shivers said. &8220;And if you prevent that you&8217;re doing pretty well.&8221;