LEEDS, Ala. – More than 900 wildfires torched about 200 acres in central Alabama, affecting homes and businesses and creating poor visibility on Interstate 20. The blazes produced plumes of smoke so thick they were visible on weather radar.
Fed by a drought throughout the Southeast, the fires destroyed more than 100,000 acres in Alabama in October alone, affecting 67 counties. Fires also threatened northwest Georgia.
Gov. Robert Bentley signed a no-burn order Oct. 12 for 46 northern and central counties. The other 21 counties remained under a fire alert.
A fire official said the flames came very close to a subdivision and a shopping center bordering I-20. Forestry Commission Incident Commander Derrick Heckman said some structures suffered cosmetic damage. No injuries were reported, and no residents were evacuated.
Federal statistics showed the entire Southeast was experiencing a severe drought, with no substantial rain expected in the near future.
“Unfortunately there is no relief in sight,” interim State Forester Gary Cole said. “The 10-day forecast for Alabama shows almost no potential for rainfall, with above-average temperatures and lower humidity. All of these factors, combined with seasonal leaf fall, contribute to extremely dangerous conditions.”
Authorities speculated the latest fires, which affected multiple communities including Birmingham and Brookside, were caused by simple carelessness or possibly even arson. Heckman believes the fires in Leeds were the result of a burst tire or dragging metal on nearby I-20.
“The situation causes grave concern for fire officials with the agency struggling with reduced availability of both firefighting manpower and suppression resource,” Cole said.
The American Red Cross Alabama Region provides relief to emergency responders and offers help to the public in the form of financial aid, food, shelter, mental health services, blood, and communication with long-distance family members.
Nationally the American Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters a year, including fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous materials spills, transportation accidents, explosions, and other natural and manmade disasters.
Pray for relief for the people of Alabama and throughout the Southeast.