Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hot and Dry Weather makes Roadside Fire a Threat

Roadside Fire threatens to become Wildfire
Discing a firebreak and hosing the fire in smoke on July 8
Only occasionally will weather make headlines, and in those cases it is only for extreme weather. Having hot weather in July and August is nothing new to the coastal plain of South Carolina. A lack of precipitation is less certain however. After a couple of wet years, its too early to use the word drought, but some areas are approaching 'Abnormally Dry' conditions. In Western Colleton County my rain gauge has recorded no precipitation since June 11, and the four weeks since then have been hotter than average. On July 8 a leftover hotspot from a small roadside fire reignited after humidity dipped to 47-percent, the temperature spiked at 95-degrees and gusty breezes stoked the affected area. A spark jumped the fire break that served to contain this hotspot, and I was then compelled to act in order to head off a wildfire. I called the Colleton County Fire Department who had previously responded to the same hotspot on June 27, and firefighter Rusty Sullivan responded very quickly and proceeded to spray 750-gallons of water on the flames. Gerald Lemacks was working nearby, and responded with a tractor and disc to freshen nearby firebreaks in case the fire spread. Then the S.C. Forestry Commission came with a fireplow and Allen Thompsen put in another containment firebreak. Just wanted to say THANKS to all this help that came my way in a short period of time!

Being on a paved road, we had several locals stop to observe the smoky scene, and the reactions were mixed. A couple of well wishers thought that we were out having fun and that nothing was wrong, while a more seasoned outdoorsman reacted with shock that this hotspot could reignite after laying low for days. So this is a good time to raise awareness about being careful with any fire in a localized area that is so dry that the duff layer of the earth continues to smolder underground waiting for a chance to flame back up at a random time, and possibly catching both land managers and the public off guard. Additionally, this is a good time to share that there is a big difference between prescribed fire (usually conducted in winter) and an unplanned wildfire.

S.C. Forestry Commission fire plow on scene
Aftermath view from paved road down the firebreak
Of course farmers in the affected areas have been acutely aware of the lack of rain since the 2014 crop is being adversely affected. Many will still make a crop, but with the lack of moisture the yield may be down. Also, those who can irrigate have that added cost to factor in with their bottom line. Some good news is that elevated chances for rain over a wide area of the Coastal Plain is forecast for July 10, 11 and 12. So this is not a message of a return to drought, rather a reminder that one month of no rain combined with the summer heat can be tough on moisture content in the coastal plain or anywhere.

To view past blog entries about weather click on 2009 drought or 2011 drought or 2013 wet weather or  2014 Ice Storm

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