Fires feared as

Fires feared asdrought grows dire

 16 October 2007

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USA — Fires feared as drought grows dire Some areas down to 3 months’ supply;sharing may be in forecast Gov. Mike Easley banned outdoor burning to preventwildfires Monday and pleaded with municipal leaders across the tinder-dry stateto conserve water.

Easley appeared before about 1,000 mayors, council members and city managersat the N.C. League of Municipalities’ annual conference in Fayetteville.

  Several communities have as little as three months’ water supply remaining, the governor said. Some face the possibility of rationing or going dry as the drought deepens. It’s already the worst in recorded history for much of the state.

“A bit of mud on the car or patches of brown on the lawn,” Easley said, “must be a badge of honor.”

Despite exceptional drought — the most severe category — covering more than half the state, including the Charlotte region, 356 of 599 public and private water systems have no restrictions. Forecasters say the state is likely to face a dry winter, when water supplies are normally replenished.

Most larger systems, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, have mandatory rules that collectively cover nearly half the state’s population. Another 24 percent of the population is under voluntary conservation.

In the N.C. portion of the Charlotte region, 80 percent of the population wasunder mandatory restrictions and 10 percent was under voluntary rules as of lastWednesday. But 10 percent — including Yadkin River towns east of Charlotte suchas Salisbury and Albemarle — faced no restrictions.

“Systems that are not in difficulty or have more water than others, we’djust like to have all of them conserving, because they may have to be sharing”if the drought persists, said Woody Yonts, a state water-resources engineer wholeads the Drought Management Advisory Council.

Easley asked the city leaders to stop outdoor watering of lawns and shrubs,and car washing at home. Restaurants, he said, should serve water only whenasked.

The governor reminded the city officials that he has authority to orderrationing if the drought threatens life and property. “Now, I do not wantto have to use these powers,” he said, saying local leaders know what worksbest.

“Your communities, businesses and neighbors need you to help make thetough choices today to avoid a crisis in the weeks or months to come.”

Easley did announce a statewide ban on open burning, such as leaves and brush.The ban doesn’t apply to outdoor grills or cookers. Violations are punishable by$100 fines.

For the year, 5,964 wildfires have been reported statewide, burning more than33,000 acres. That’s about 2,000 more fires and twice as much acreage burnedthan usual for this point in the year.

Vegetation is drier than state forester Dan Brandon has seen in years. “Withconditions as dry as they are, the fires are burning more intense; they’reburning deep and really clean,” said Brandon, district forester in the areathat includes Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus and Gaston counties. “There’smore fuel in the forest, so it takes a lot longer to put them out.

“So much of the brush is dead, adding to the fuel.”

Ten to 12 fires — most of them twice as big as normal — burned in Brandon’sdistrict over the weekend.

Natural barriers, such as creek bottoms and beaver swamps, that containwildfires are also drying up. Brandon said he has found dry beaver swamps thatonce had 4 to 5 feet of water.

“We’ve run after fires hot and hard all during the summer, and it’s notgoing to go away for the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s anextraordinary situation. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Normally, the state experiences a fall wildfire season. But this year,Brandon said, that started back in July.

In the Mountains

High Shoals Falls on the Jacobs Fork River in the South Mountains State Parkis but a trickle (right) of its former flow after months of drought. Wildfiresare also a concern.

In Charlotte

Restrictions have banned all lawn watering and car washing. More than half ofNorth Carolina’s population is covered by rules limiting water use. Officialswarn more sacrifice may be needed.

Farther South

Exposed lake bed and beached boat docks are shown at Lake Lanier nearAtlanta. Rivers throughout the Southeast are turning to dust, and some towns arethreatening to ration dwindling water supplies.

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