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Be firewise: use common sense

Shirley Burnham / The Prentiss Headlight – FIREWISE Coordinator Leslie G. (Opie) Blackwell, JDC Soil & Water Commissioner James Slater, Hope Daley, and Commissioner Sandra Cole.

Shirley Burnham / The Prentiss Headlight – FIREWISE Coordinator Leslie G. (Opie) Blackwell, JDC Soil & Water Commissioner James Slater, Hope Daley, and Commissioner Sandra Cole.

According to Mississippi Forestry Commission statistics, Jeff Davis County was the third hottest county in the state for wildfires between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012. Mississippi Forestry Commission crews responded to 183 wildfires. These wildfires burned approximately 1,156 acres. The peak season months are March when farmers are burning off croplands and the driest month is usually October.  Ninety percent of these wildfires were human caused by either debris burning or arson.

FIREWISE Coordinator Leslie G. (Opie) Blackwell of the Mississippi Forestry Commission gave those attending the meeting hosted by the Jeff Davis County Soil & Water Conservation District at the Ezra Garner Memorial Building these statistics and many more statewide concerning wildfires in Mississippi. FIREWISE is a part of a new initiative in Mississippi, led by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, to achieve fire safe planning and development in our communities.

In 1985 Blackwell stated when the FIREWISE program began, there was a shortage of fire trucks and firemen as well as fire prevention education in the state.

With wildland/urban interface living and the small number of resources available, the responsibility for protecting homes falls to the homeowners. Homes intermingled with forests or wildlands with limited road access; close trees and buildings in natural surroundings are the most vulnerable to wildfire destruction. Blackwell pointed out common sense proactive tactics could prevent many fires and the loss of many homes. He advised creating a 200 ft. ignition free zone around the home with these suggestions:

Prune shrubs and cut back tree branches especially within 15 ft. of your chimney.

Remove dead plant material from around your home including dead leaves, dry grass and even stacked firewood. Use a soaker hose to keep pine straw around your plants and home wet during dry periods.

Plant fire-resistant vegetation that is healthy and green throughout the year.

Use fire-resistant roof materials that include Class-A asphalt shingles, metal, cement and concrete products and place a firebrand mesh behind attic and foundation vents.

Be sure your 911 address is clearly visible and your driveway is assessable to emergency vehicles.

Blackwell states a fire follows the fuel source and suggests that you “pay attention to the little things before they add up.”

The Mississippi Forestry Commission has a variety of free information available to help homeowners become Firewise. You can obtain more information by contactingthe Mississippi Forestry Commission at www.mfc.ms.gov.  Contact Blackwell at 1blackwell@mfc.state.ms.us to find out how you can begin a local Firewise Community to help educate homeowners and communities in preventing unwanted home ignitions from wildfires.