Edited Version of the Southern Area Intelligence Briefing Paper for 22 April, by Jim Sorensen (Viking Global Enterprises)
The annual process in which deciduous trees and shrubs grow new foliage on winter-bare branches is known locally as “green-up”. Fire suppression forces welcome this condition, because it increases shade on the forest floor, holds moisture, and generally modifies fire behavior in their favor. Historically, the Southern Area is well into green-up in the southeastern United States by mid-April. The onset of this years green-up has significantly lessened fire danger in some of the Southern Area, but it has not occurred throughout the entire Area. Large fires are still possible in Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the last week the Southern Area has had significant large fire activity in Florida and North Carolina. Thirty active large fires are currently burning in these two states. Most of this activity is due to the combination of long-term drought conditions and the dry and windy weather pattern that has been predominant over the Area for the past months. A few examples of the drought conditions that exist in Florida are: Tallahassee is deficient by 50.37 inches and Pensacola is deficient by 45.37 inchesof rainfall for the last 30 months.
There have been an estimated twenty mandatory evacuations, hundreds of homes have been threatened,and100 homes have been damaged or destroyed so far this year. In this week alone eleven homeshave beendamaged or destroyed by wildfires in Florida and North Carolina.
Initial attack has increased dramatically over the entire Southern Area. So far this year the Area has recorded a total of 16,865 fires for 355,239 acres. Of these, 3,442 fires and 118,611 acres burned in April alone. The number of acres burned in the last three weeks represents 33% of the total so far in calendar year 2001. All of the southern states have experienced moderate to heavy initial attack, and workers are also staying on incidents longer than normal to monitor and insure that the fires are completely controlled. This is necessary because of the high number of escapes due to extreme weather conditions.
Currently, all available air resources in the Southern Area are being utilized. Yesterday, and for the past several days, 8 air tankers, 4 lead planes, and 25 helicopters saw service. All of these resources will continue to receive heavy use for the foreseeable future.
The National Weather Service (NWS) predicts the Southern Area will have temperatures warmer than normal and precipitation less than normal in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas for the next 90 days. These continued dry and warm conditions increase the likelihood that the Southern Area will continue to have significant fire activity. Extreme and Exceptional drought currently exists in several portions of the Southern Area, and these conditions can be expected to become worse.