JACKSON – Over the last month, the wildfires raging out west have dominated the nightly news. Fire is one of the most destructive forces on the planet. Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in forests and other wildlands.
Wildfires cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage every year in the United States. The greatest toll wildfires take is in the wildland-urban interface, a zone of transition between wildland (unoccupied land) and human development.
Mississippi is home to approximately 19.2 million acres of forestland, about 62 percent of the state. As growth and expansion continue, the threat of wildfire to Mississippi’s wildland-urban interface increases.
Mississippi usually sees two wildfire seasons, one in the spring and one in the fall, where wildfire activity spikes. Fall wildfire season occurs before the wet winter weather moves in when trees begin to drop their leaves and dead branches. This dry material on the ground is the fuel a small fire needs to turn into a wildfire.
“Wildfires occur in Mississippi more often than people realize and we are entering the state’s fall wildfire season,” said Russell Bozeman, Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) state forester. “We don’t get the large scale fires you see out west because Mississippi’s topography differs from western states. However, the Mississippi Forestry Commission still battles a significant number of wildfires every year.”
From July 2019 through June 2020, MFC wildland firefighters responded to 798 wildfires that burned approximately 21,000 acres. Additionally, MFC wildland firefighters saved 2,467 structures, including homes, from wildfires.
“The Forestry Commission wants people to understand the potential dangers and make sure they are prepared should a wildfire threaten their home,” Bozeman said.
Education is a big part of preparation. If you live in an area that is in the wildland-urban interface, there are steps you can take to protect your home and property before a wildfire occurs.
The MFC offers the Firewise™ program to homeowners and community leaders in order to share information and resources. The Firewise™ program equips homeowners and communities with the information they need to help design, construct, landscape and maintain homes and communities to better withstand wildfires.
Here are a few easy tips to start making your home Firewise™.
Create and maintain at least 30 feet of defensible space around your home.
Remove hazards such as wood piles or other flammable materials from near your home.
Prune low hanging limbs to six to 10 feet from the ground.
Reduce the amount of fuel that could bring a wildfire into your home by cleaning rooves and gutters.
“Mississippi’s fall wildfire season is upon us,” said Bozeman. “We want to ensure that everyone is Firewise™ and has the resources they need to protect their property. We also want people to remember that nine out of 10 wildfires in Mississippi are human-caused, so use caution when doing any outdoor burning, especially this time of year.”
For more information about the Firewise™ program, visit mfc.ms.gov/wildfires/wildfire-prevention/ and like and follow @MSForestryComm on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.