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WEDNESDAY, MAY 23, 2007
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Drought turns accidental blaze into 10-acre fire

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

SOMERVILLE — Flames consumed grass, brush and trees after dry conditions turned a farming accident into a 10-acre wildfire Tuesday.

Somerville Fire Chief David Nelms said about 25 volunteer firefighters from Somerville, Cotaco, Florette, Talucah and Brindlee Mountain spent four hours fighting the blaze, which broke out at about 1 p.m. near Gravel Ridge and Curry Chapel roads.

"A guy was cutting hay, and a bearing locked up in his hay baler and caught (the grass) on fire. That's how dry it is. If we don't get some rain, it's going to be real bad," Nelms said.

The blaze could easily have turned into a monstrous forest fire if winds had been higher or it had not been contained quickly, Nelms said.

"It could have been bad. Especially in that location," Nelms said.

"In that field behind there, there's nothing but woods, and I think they go all the way up to Talucah."

"We're glad there wasn't a lot of wind today," he said. "If there had been a lot of wind, we'd have had a major problem."

The majority of scorched land was covered with grass, but part of the area was wooded.

Though firefighters gained control of the blaze at about 2:30 p.m., to be safe, they called in the Alabama Forestry Commission to cut a firebreak around the area using a bulldozer.

The National Weather Service in Huntsville issued a red flag warning Tuesday, saying dropping humidity and rising winds combined with drought conditions created critical fire danger.

With 10.52 inches of rain so far this year, 2007 is the driest year to date for the Huntsville area, according to an NWS report issued Monday.

The last rain was last Wednesday, and no rain is expected within the next six days.

"Since January of 2005, we're down almost four feet of rain," said Andy Kula, a senior NWS meteorologist.

Kula said the NWS issued a fire weather watch for Wednesday and could issue another red flag warning.

Rainfall deficit data for Huntsville

Period: Inches

Month-to-date: 2.62

Since March 1: 9.44

Year-to-date: 14.57

Since Jan. 2006: 29.49

Since Jan. 2005: 46.85

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