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Firefighters  Ricky Duffy, Jason Martin and Tommy Toone smother the blaze near Ardmore on Tuesday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Firefighters Ricky Duffy, Jason Martin and Tommy Toone smother the blaze near Ardmore on Tuesday.

Fire raises drought concern
4 departments fight Ardmore blaze; dryness makes conditions volatile

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ARDMORE — To firefighters, the dark smoke circling skyward from Tuesday's fire in Ardmore looked like a tornado.

It was visible as far as Alabama 20 in Decatur.

It was not a pleasant sight, especially when the probability of a catastrophic fire is high, according to the National Weather Service's Huntsville office.

"This was a pretty big fire, so we wanted it put out in a hurry," said Oak Grove-Thach volunteer firefighter Darrell Blankenship.

That's because the area is in an extreme drought, the worst drought category.

An unoccupied greenhouse first erupted into flames at 2:15 p.m. on Pinedale Road near Gatlin Drive.

East Limestone volunteer firefighter Tony Kirk said the greenhouse was behind a brick home, which also caught on fire.

Neighbors said the home was also unoccupied.

Scanner reports indicated a wheat field in front of the home then caught fire, but Blankenship said it was actually an overgrown yard. The fire burned about three-fourths of an acre, Blankenship said.

"With the dry conditions and the way the wind was blowing, if there had been a field nearby, we would have had a major problem on our hands," Kirk said.

Firefighters from Oak Grove-Thach, East Limestone, Ardmore and Piney Chapel used three hydrants to extinguish the blaze.

To ensure another grassfire didn't erupt, firefighters still were on the scene Tuesday evening. Ardmore firefighters planned to use a backhoe to knock down the remainder of the structures to ensure the fire was out and would not flare up.

Kirk and Blankenship said they did not know what caused the greenhouse to catch fire.

Conditions are so volatile that the North Alabama area is under a fire ban.

No open flames are allowed outdoors. Fireworks also are part of the ban.

"With this drought, just flicking a cigarette into grass on the side of the road can start a fire," Kirk said.

According to state law, anyone found guilty of open burning in a drought emergency faces fines ranging from $250 to $500. A court also can sentence a person to up to six months in jail.

In addition, any person causing a wildfire, either from an escaped fire or from fireworks, will be liable for property damage and the cost of extinguishing the fire.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a disaster declaration for 19 Alabama counties, including Limestone, Morgan and Lawrence, which have
been affected by the severe drought.

The declaration would make farmers and ranchers in those counties eligible for federal assistance.

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