Wildfires on the rise in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It is fair to say Alabama is cooking.

"That would be an understatement," said Dan Jackson, Forest Operations Division Director for the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Inside the forestry dispatch center in Montgomery Jackson shows us the entire map of Alabama, divided into six regions.

The driest? South Alabama.

"With those cluster of fires, this is not good," Jackson said.

That explains for the moment why a handful of forest fires are burning more than 1,200 acres in Escambia County.

"Arson is our number one cause, and there are a myriad of reasons for them. Sometimes they don't like the property owner," Jackson said.

It is here in the center where dispatchers get a combination of calls from 911 centers and the public. And it's Brian Brooks who alerts the forestry firefighters. Brooks' region is southwest Alabama. A cool head is needed for this job because lives and property are often at stake.

"It can be overwhelming at times. We have fires now in Escambia County, Conecuh and Mobile Counties," said Brooks.

Making matters more difficult for the Alabama Forestry Commission is the fact it has 176 firefighters across the state, down from 230 one year ago, all due to attrition, retirement and deep state budget cuts.

Speaking of homes and businesses, Jackson tells WSFA 12 News around 20 houses are lost every year to wildfires in Alabama, a word of caution to act now if you live near or in wooded areas.

"This would be a good time to clear vegetation and clear out your gutters. You need to have a good amount of space between your home and the woods," Jackson said.

The summer of 2011 could potentially go down as the worst on record, according to Jackson. The worst two years were 1999 and 2000.

"We have a long way to go," Jackson said as he looked at the state map dotted with fires here and there.

And it's only June.

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