South­ern storms should ease drought; fire threat re­mains

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Storms roar­ing across the South ap­peared to be tak­ing aim at some of the largest wild­fires burn­ing across the re­gion, which could fi­nally help fire­fight­ers in their ef­forts to sub­due the blazes, au­thor­i­ties said Mon­day. As the storm sys­tem passed over Mis­sis­sippi, Alabama and Ten­nessee late Mon­day, it was head­ing to­ward some of largest wild­fires in Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee and North Carolina. In Gatlin­burg, Ten­nessee, smoke and fire caused the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion of down­town and sur­round­ing ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the Ten­nessee Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

The wild­fire set 30 build­ings ablaze and was at the edge of Dol­ly­wood, Dolly Par­ton’s theme park, TEMA spokesman Dean Flener said in a news re­lease. TV news broad­casts showed res­i­dents stream­ing out of town just as rain started to wet roads. The rain fore­cast “puts the bull’s-eye of the great­est amounts right at the bull’seye of where we’ve been hav­ing our great­est ac­tiv­ity,” said Dave Martin, deputy di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for fire and avi­a­tion man­age­ment with the south­ern re­gion of the US For­est Ser­vice. The pro­jected rain­fall amounts “re­ally lines up with where we need it,” Martin said Mon­day.

“We’re all knock­ing on wood.” Yet af­ter weeks of pun­ish­ing drought, any rain that falls should be soaked up quickly, fore­cast­ers said. It will pro­vide some re­lief but won’t end the drought - or the fire threat, they say. Drought con­di­tions will likely per­sist, au­thor­i­ties said. The prob­lem is that rain­fall amounts have been 10 to 15 inches be­low nor­mal dur­ing the past three months in many parts of the South, au­thor­i­ties said. “I think we racked up deficits that are go­ing to be too much to over­come with just one storm sys­tem,” said Mark Svo­boda, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Drought Mit­i­ga­tion Cen­ter in Lin­coln, Ne­braska. “I would say it’s way too early to say ‘Yes, this drought is over,’” Svo­boda said. “Does it put a dent in it? Yes, but we have a long ways to go.”

The rain also brings dan­ger be­cause strong winds at the lead­ing edge of the storms can top­ple trees and limbs that can kill and in­jure fire­fight­ers, he said. In Mis­sis­sippi, trees were re­ported downed in nearly 20 coun­ties across the state. Sus­tained winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of more than 50 mph were re­ported and more than 2 inches of rain fell in some ar­eas. Power out­ages peaked at more than 23,000 statewide in Mis­sis­sippi. Pow­er­lines downed by winds sparked grass fires in four coun­ties, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mis­sis­sippi Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

The storms were mov­ing across Alabama on Mon­day night and were ex­pected to slam into Ge­or­gia dur­ing the overnight hours. High wind warn­ings were is­sued for moun­tain­ous ar­eas in north­ern parts of Ge­or­gia.

In South Carolina, the stormy fore­cast was giv­ing hope to fire­fight­ers bat­tling a blaze in the north­west cor­ner of the state. The South Carolina Forestry Com­mis­sion hopes to con­tain the Pin­na­cle Moun­tain fire by the mid­dle of next week. More rain was ex­pected to­day morn­ing in parts of Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama. — AP

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