Drought and Arson Fuel Wildfires in American South

By Maharsh Barot, National News Writer

The advent of a severe drought in six states in the American Southeast is believed to have been a catalyst for the resulting wildfires that continue to burn in the region. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky are suffering as about 128,000 acres have been burned away, according to ABC News.

In a statement to CNN, Brian Haines, spokesman for the North Carolina Forest Service, gave an explanation for these occurrences, saying that “all of the Southeast is very dry…Drought conditions are contributing to drier and larger forest fuels being available. These range from the undergrowth to sticks, leaves and logs. Even the smallest of sparks can ignite these very dry fuels.”

According to last week’s drought report in the South by NBC, about 41.6 million people spread throughout 15 Southern states live in drought conditions. Typically, the worst drought conditions exist in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. However, the extreme drought conditions have also spread into the Carolinas, as well as Kentucky, with severe wildfires occurring in these areas.

Scientists say that due to the condition known as La Niña, the South will be warmer and drier than normal throughout this winter, according to AL.com—Alabama’s state-wide news source. This allows for more instances for wildfires. As a result, many counties have put a ban on starting fires outdoors.

There is reason to believe, however, that not all of these purported wildfires were indeed caused by drought. In Kentucky, two arrests were made for arson, and a man received a citation for violating a burn ban by starting a brush fire. Similar incidents were also reported in Tennessee.

Despite reported cases of arson, natural causes and conditions are deemed the official cause of many of these fires, as reported by CNN. Unfortunately, there are still many incidents that have occurred and are occurring due to the advent of these persistent fires.

A common effect of these wildfires is property damage. They also endanger human lives, which can be and have been hurt by smoke inhalation or direct burns. Due to the vast number of people in the regions surrounding the burn sites, multiple communities have been evacuated.

Wildfires also compromise roads and highways. ABC News reported that a man died in a car accident on eastern Kentucky’s Mountain Parkway due to decreased visibility from the smoke. Kentucky State Police have stated that 14 other injuries due to car wrecks have occurred on both sides of the road. Another accident occurred when a coal truck driver was killed when he exited his vehicle to check the damage it had received from another vehicle, and was hit by a third vehicle. About 15 additional vehicles were involved in the resulting chain reaction collisions, closing the highway for ten hours, as reported to ABC News by State trooper Scott Ferrell.

More than 5000 firefighters and support have come to the area from about 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, in order to extinguish the flames. 24 helicopters have been employed to dump flame retardant into the fire zone in an effort to control and limit the blazes. The Weather Channel has stated that as of November 18, there are still 30 or more large fires that remain un-contained.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.

Contact Maharsh

maharsh.barot@student.shu.edu

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