Area grass fire claims trailer, car

Area grass fireclaims trailer, car

22 March 2007

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USA — Spring’s arrival follows the driest December, January andFebruary span in 117 years of record keeping in the Tennessee Valley Authority’sseven-state region, a spokesman for the utility said.

In Lowndes County, wild fires have been raging across the area in recent months.Wednesday, a small grass fire, fed by strong winds, grew into a 10-acre blaze onNobel Lane near the Eka Chemical facility south of Columbus, destroying a mobilehome and a car.

Fifteen Lowndes County volunteer firefighters responded to the fire, which tookmore than two hours to put out. They were joined by personnel from theMississippi Forestry Commission and the Mississippi Department of EnvironmentalEquality.

A pile of tires in the woods added additional fuel to the fire, which went on toburn the trailer and car. The homeowner was away in Jackson at the time of thefire, officials said.

Lowndes County Fire Coordinator Sammy Fondren said the hot, dry conditions,along with strong winds have been fueling grass fires throughout the county.

“The county doesn’t have a burn ban currently in effect,” hesaid. “But we are down about seven inches (of rain) this year and it’ssomething we’ll have to think about.”

TVA spokesman John Moulton said the winter dry spell is based on averagerainfall amounts for those three months.

Knoxville-based TVA provides electricity through 158 distributors in Tennesseeand parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina andVirginia.

Chattanooga, Tenn.’s rainfall is about eight inches below normal since Jan. 1.

National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Boyd said northeast Alabama and thesouthern Cumberland Plateau counties in Tennessee are even drier and are in a“severe drought.”

Northwest Georgia and southwest Virginia are also dry, he said.
Boyd said he was not wishing for tropical storms but several “major rainfallevents” are needed to replenish water supplies.

“That’s really what we need is that kind of rainfall,” he said.

Randy Kerr, TVA’s river forecasting manager, said the utility has “been in awater conservation mode for little over a month, and our pool levels areactually a little bit above where they should be.”

“This is just now where we start really aggressively filling our reservoirs,”he said.

Kerr said TVA’s main river channels likely will be unaffected. But if conditionsremain dry, it’s possible that water levels of tributaries such as the Hiawasseeand Ocoee rivers may be below levels required for rafting and recreation, hesaid.

“It’s a little early to say those levels will be impacted,” he said.“There is that possibility.”

It’s also too early to predict whether dry weather will cause electric bills toclimb, TVA officials said. Any impact would be felt in next year’s budget,Moulton said.

After a dry spell last year, current conditions and forecasts have farmers,firefighters and power producers on alert.

“The saying, ‘April showers bring May flowers,’ is true,” said SherryNorton, who with her husband Sammy operates a dairy farm in Decatur, Tenn. “Ifwe don’t get enough rain, we won’t have a good spring. We plant corn in April,and hay needs rain. If we don’t get it, when we go through the dry season inJuly and August, it hurts us.”

The first day of spring was Wednesday. Since Jan. 1, theChattanooga area has recorded 6.28 inches of rain, compared to the 14.25 inchesduring a normal period, Waldron said.

“Chattanooga is not quite but is very near a severe drought,” Waldron said.“The outlook is calling for some improvement, but basically (drought)conditions (will) be ongoing through June.”

John Kirksey, resources protection unit leader for the Tennessee ForestryDivision, said the conditions have doubled the number of wildfires this year.

“Since Jan. 1 we’ve had about 1,200 wildfires,” Kirksey said. “We have hadabout 840 wildfires for that same time frame for the last five years.”

Farmers who grow produce to sell at farmers’ markets are likely to be hard hitif the rains don’t come, said Nick Jessen, manager of the Chattanooga Market.

The dry weather hit farmers who are too small to afford irrigation equipment orso large that investing in the equipment is not worth it, he said.

“Last year, (the dry period) really hurt the peach and apple crops,” Jessensaid. “A lot of varieties did not produce at all, and some were short. If itstays dry, it makes the crop very unpredictable.”

Kim Frady, the University of Tennessee agriculture extension agent in BradleyCounty, said farmers who rely on hay to feed their livestock already are facinga shortage from last year. He said Georgia and Alabama farmers have been callingTennessee looking for hay, and the ethanol movement is increasing competitionfor corn.

“If (farmers) don’t have enough feed, they will have to purchase feed,” hesaid.

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