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Outdoor burning banned to prevent wildfires

 A brush fire on Old Spanish Trail Road in Ocean Springs was contained by late afternoon Friday.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/2009 A brush fire on Old Spanish Trail Road in Ocean Springs was contained by late afternoon Friday.

Fire officials are urging the public to avoid outdoor burning to reduce wildfires while a statewide burn ban is in effect.

Increasing chances of rain over the weekend could help the situation, but outdoor burning should be avoided at all costs until the ban is lifted, said Russell Bozeman of the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

More than 2,000 acres statewide were destroyed in wildfires this week, including 600 acres in Pearl River County. Bozeman said his numbers did not include wildfires reported Friday.

Burn bans typically are issued at the request of county supervisors.

However, weather conditions, droughts and the high number of wildfires this month prompted the MFC to ask Gov. Phil Bryant to order a statewide burn ban. Bryant signed the order Tuesday.

Local fire officials had been urging South Mississippi residents to avoid outdoor burning since before last weekend.

The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch a week ago, saying low humidity, high winds and dry conditions were conducive to wildfires.

A chance of rainfall this weekend could help, but it will take a steady, tropical-storm type of rain like moisture from Hurricane Patricia to make a difference, Bozeman said.

"If it rains a while and the sun comes back out, we could be back in the same shape within 24 hours without extended rainfall," he said. "The presence of rain doesn't automatically lift the ban."

The NSW's five-day forecast on Friday showed Harrison, Hancock and Pearl River counties could receive 3 to 5 inches. Stone County could receive 2 to 4 inches and Jackson and George counties could receive 1.75 to 2.5 inches.

The MFC has worked 188 wildfires in the past week. Of those, 129 homes were threatened and three were destroyed. Bozeman said wildfires also threatened six commercial properties and 40 outbuildings, which include sheds and barns. Two outbuildings were destroyed.

From Oct. 1 through Thursday, MFC worked a total of 618 wildfires that burned more than 9,000 acres and destroyed 23 homes.

A wildfire in Jackson County burned 40 acres Oct. 14.

"Tell people to please not burn outdoors until this ban is lifted," Bozeman said.

"Even the smallest fire can get out of control."