National Weather Service deeply concerned about fire hazard

Authored by Jim Langham on Jun 29, 2012

Officials at the National Weather Service in North Webster are becoming deeply concerned about the potential for major fires breaking out in northern Indiana and northwest Ohio, including the local area. On Thursday, weather officials had issued an extreme heat warning, heat advisory, hazardous weather outlook (for a combination of wind and heat) and red flag warning, indicating the utmost concern for the potential of major fire outbreaks.
"A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly," stated weather officials. "A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures will create explosive fire growth potential."
As a result, most counties in the northern half of Indiana and northwest Ohio are under burn bans, including Adams County. Adams County Emergency Management director John August said on Wednesday that the drought had originally affected the northern portions of the county first, but now the entire county is in extreme danger of fire hazards.
He noted that on June 18, due to widespread drought conditions in the county, County Commissioners issued a countywide burn ban. The ban specifically prohibits campfires and other recreational fires, unless enclosed in a fire ring with dimensions of 23 inches in diameter and 10 inches high or higher, open burning of any kind using conventional fuel such as wood, or other combustible matter, with the exception of grills fueled by charcoal briquettes or propane and the burning of debris, such as timber and vegetation, including such debris that results from building construction activities.
"In addition, we strongly encourage our residents to attend public displays of fireworks and limit their personal use of fireworks to those that do not leave the ground, and that they refrain from using aerial firework devices," indicated the emergency declaration. "Burning will be allowed in burn barrels with a 1/4" mesh top from dawn to dusk only. Charcoal from permitted grills shall not be removed from the grills until the charcoal has been thoroughly extinguished."
Berne, Geneva and Decatur have all banned the use of personal (private) fireworks. However, the public display of fireworks at the Geneva ball diamond is still scheduled at this time for June 30, 2012. The Geneva Volunteer Fire Department will wet down the area prior to the fireworks and be on site during the display.
Weather specialist Rick McCoy, also EMA director for Van Wert County, has advised that area residents should enclose a household burning in a fireplace structure, avoid all burning trash during windy conditions and should not leave any fire unattended.
"The discarding of any inextinguishable smoking material out of a vehicle window or by throwing it on the ground can easily ignite a fire," said McCoy. "Enclosed fireproof receptacles should be used.
"Farmers should check fire extinguishers in combines and farm equipment and confirm that they are fully operational in the event of an equipment fire, especially around wheat fields and dry grass," added McCoy.
"National Weather Service officials don't see any break or even lessening in the conditions," said McCoy. "If any thing, they are predicting worse. Although temperatures will remain in the mid-90's over the weekend, speculation is that they will climb back into the 100-plus range next week."
National Weather Service officials said on Thursday that things could even get worse by the middle or last part of July if there is no relief because many trees will start to drop their leaves as a protective precaution due to lack of moisture.
The process, referred to as abscission, involves the leaves first of all withering and turning brown, and then eventually dropping to the ground as though it were fall. McCoy said that several area residents have already started reporting certain trees going into that stage.
Weather officials said that on some occasions, during severe drought, the trees will actually shed their leaves, but if rehydration occurs through the return of rain, they may shoot buds and grow leaves again that same season, although usually stunted.
For the month of June, the weather office in Fort Wayne has received .25 of an inch of rain, the driest on record for the month. In addition, the depreciation for the year is approaching nine inches. Prior to yesterday's reading of 106 (at 4 p.m.), the warmest June 28 temperature on record was the torrid 1934, when the temperature reached 102.

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