Most of region now under burn ban

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

Burn bans are in effect in 12 of the 16 counties of Northeast Mississippi.
Benton, Marshall, Pontotoc and Tippah counties enacted burn bans last week, and supervisors in Calhoun, Chickasaw, Clay, Lafayette, Lee, Monroe, Tishomingo and Union followed suit on Monday, asking the Mississippi Forestry Commission to add them to the list of areas where outdoor fires are prohibited.
Authorities in Alcorn, Itawamba, Oktibbeha and Prentiss counties have not enacted burn bans.
Burn ban exemptions vary from county to county; in Lafayette, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was exempted because of its expertise and equipment resources. Some counties exempt the Mississippi Forestry Commission or contractors with heavy equipment for the same reasons.
Independence Day celebrations may largely go on as planned; burn bans apply only to open fires, not fireworks. Many municipalities do ban fireworks within their limits. Officials are nevertheless urging great caution – not to mention a measure of common sense – in setting off fireworks.
“Don’t light a Roman candle and shoot it toward the tall grass,” Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said.
While a few spots across the region received rain on Sunday and a few others on Monday, the Tupelo airport’s last recorded precipitation was on June 12. Rainfall total for June was just 1.41 inches – 3.11 inches below the month’s historic average.
The dry weather didn’t just begin last month: Tupelo’s rainfall was also more than three inches below average for both April and May. According to the National Weather Service, large parts of Northeast Mississippi have rainfall deficits for the year of more than 12 inches, with a few pockets 16 inches or more down from average precipitation.
George Byrd, regional forester with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, said parts of north Mississippi are already in serious drought conditions.
“We’re approaching where we were in 2000,” he said.
Ryan Husted, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, said no significant chance of rain is in the forecast.
The first hint of widespread rain in the forecast is early next week, but it’s a long shot, Husted said.
errol.castens@journalinc.com