By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – A large plume of white smoke filled the sky east of Houston Tuesday and was part of the U.S. Forest Service’s annual prescribed burn of select areas of the Tombigbee National Forest.
“Prescribed burns are a tool we use when conditions are right to open up the forest and reduce the risk of a catastrophic forest fire,” said Mario Risolli, of the National Forest Service in Mississippi.
“It’s a way we manage our forest and make them safer and better.” Risolli said the forest service typically begins a prescribed burn in late winter and tries to catch the forest before it becomes green in the spring.
He said forest rangers also seek the best weather conditions. He added the forest service carefully monitors all prescribed burns with personnel and has equipment on standby in event the fire gets out of control.
“We usually ignite these fires in the late afternoon and try and have them out before midnight,” said Risolli. “There is usually not a lot of wind during that time and we like a little moisture in the air to help keep the fire down.”
Risolli said the National Forest Service will be conducting prescribed burns in Chickasaw County over the next couple of weeks.
The Tombigbee National Forest covers about 26,800 acres or about 42 square miles in both Chickasaw and Pontotoc Counties. The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through a portion of the forest northeast of Houston.
While a permit it not needed for a prescribd burn, the Houston Fire Department does encourage landowners to contact 911 before they burn.
“Most reports of a fire come through 911 and letting them know this is a prescribed burn and not a wildfire can keep us from having to go out there and find out what is going on,” said Sgt. Mitchell Slaughter, of the Houston Fire Department. “We also want to remind folks that if a fire gets out of control and burns someone else’s property you can be held liable for any damages.”
Mitchell said this is the time of year when homeowners burn winter rubbish and he urged them to use caution.
“Gusting wind is the worst and can cause any fire to get out of control in just a second,” said Slaughter. “We also urge people to have a water supply handy if they are burning around the house and a tractor and plow ready if they are burning larger sections of land.
“People need to use common sense and monitor all burning until it is out cold,” he added. “It’s a fire, and no matter how small, it can become dangerous if you don’t respect it.”