FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2006
SOUTHERN WILDFIRES TAKE TERRIBLE TOLL
(Columbia, SC) -- Wildfires across the south have claimed two dozen lives and two million acres of woodland so far this year. Firefighters in 13 southern states have already battled more than 29,000 blazes and the campaign is expected to continue.
The dead include six wildland firefighters and 18 civilians southwide. Such loss of life is unprecedented for a single fire season, said SC Forestry Commission Fire Chief Paul Watts. None of the fatalities occurred in South Carolina.
While South Carolina’s fire losses have been less severe, State Forester Bob Schowalter is calling for all firefighters to join other southern states in a special safety recognition on May 17. Schowalter said Forestry Commission firefighters will observe a 10-minute stand-down Wednesday morning to remember the dead and reflect on wildland firefighting safety.
Since January 1, South Carolina Forestry Commission firefighters have responded to almost 2000 wildfires burning more than 12,000 acres. Those fires destroyed 29 homes and damaged 13 others.
Contributing to the south-wide wildfire problem are hurricane debris and widespread drought. Hurricane blow-down in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas provides huge amounts of fuel while physical barriers presented by downed trees hamper firefighting efforts. Drought conditions further complicate the situation by allowing fires to start easily and burn intensely.
While the south’s primary wildfire season is in winter and spring, the National Weather Service says conditions could get even worse this summer. Forestry Commission firefighters will likely be involved, either here in South Carolina or assisting firefighters in other southern states.
For additional information on wildland fire safety, visit the SC Forestry Commission web site at http://www.state.sc.us/forest/ or the National Wildfire Coordinating Group site at http://www.nwcg.gov/teams/shwt/index2.htm
For more information, contact: Paul Watts, 803-667-1439.