A red flag alert was issued for all of South Carolina during a wildfire season that started earlier compared with previous years and promises to be more intense, forestry officials said Tuesday.
“We have fires all year long, but we have really seen things amp up,” said Scott Hawkins, a South Carolina Forestry Commission spokesman.
Since July 1, the number of wildfires and the acreage burned is more than double that of a typical year, said Paul Watts, the commission’s fire chief.
On Monday, firefighters fought 56 wildfires statewide and returned to at least 14 blazes a day later that had not been contained, Hawkins said on his way to a fire at a hunt club in Richland County.
Low humidity and brisk winds prompted the fire warning, which asks people to postpone burning until conditions improve.
Watts said from July 1 through the end of November the state usually averages about 520 fires that burn about 2,200 acres.
But so far this year, almost 1,300 fires have burned 5,500 acres. And generally the forest fire season doesn’t even arrive until late winter.
“Our numbers for the last few months – July and August right until now – show the fire behavior is abnormally high and the fires we do get are slightly more aggressive,” Hawkins said.
Much of the reason is the ongoing drought.
“The drought and luck of the draw with weather,” Hawkins said. “The last few days we have had high winds. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, winds will fan a flame that has been ignited.”
The coming of colder weather only makes the situation worse, Watts said.
“We normally expect to pick up some fires this time of year once the frost comes and the leaves fall and the grass turns brown,” he said.
“We’re in for a fall and winter season,” Watts said. “The long range predictions aren’t talking about any significant precipitation.”
It also means firefighters will stay busy.
“What that has translated to is our people are getting fatigued,” he added. “When you run two or three days hard people start getting tired and you have equipment problems and those sorts of things.”