Recent rainfall not enough to put state's burn ban to rest

Despite recent rainfall and the chance for precipitation again today, the statewide ban on outdoor burning imposed by Gov. Haley Barbour on Oct. 6 is not likely to end right away.
Governor’s Office spokesman Dan Turner said the statewide ban will not be lifted until “after we clear it with the forestry folks. We have to get some good, substantial, soaking rain before we can lift it.”
“If we were receive a couple of inches over two or three days’ time, that would make a big difference,” said Russell Bozeman, manager of forest protection and forest management with the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
“It would require enough to drench the soil: Some of the rain events we’ve had have come in downpours, so it hasn’t had time to soak in.”
Bozeman said over the weekend, firefighters across the state extinguished 33 wildland fires.
“We’re already reaching the critical time of year,” Lafayette County Fire Coordinator Jerry Johnson said. “We had a gentleman pull over the other day to talk on his cell phone, and the exhaust from his vehicle set the grass on fire. That’s how dry it is.”
Soaking rains are not likely soon. The National Weather Service had predicted a 50-percent chance of precipitation for today in Northeast Mississippi, but with only isolated locations expected to get more than a tenth of an inch.
Chances for rain are expected to diminish Wednesday, with sunny skies and no mention of rain from Thursday through at least Sunday.
More than 50 of the state’s 82 counties had already enacted burn bans when the governor made it statewide, and some counties have extended them in case local conditions necessitate a continuation after fire danger lessens elsewhere in the state.
Lafayette County supervisors on Monday extended their ban through Dec. 6 but authorized Johnson to end it sooner if the statewide ban is lifted and if local conditions have improved.
Lee County authorities would have to re-enact their ban under such circumstances, County Administrator Sean Thompson said, but he doesn’t expect the county to have to make that decision.
“I think the governor will wait until all doubt is removed, because if I take my flags down now, they’ll burn Lee County to the ground. People are antsy to get their fall burning done,” Thompson said. “My gut feeling is it’ll be so soggy the day he lifts the ban that you couldn’t burn a leaf with a gallon of gasoline.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

ERROL CASTENS / Daily Journal Oxford Bureau