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Wildfires Burning in Northern Alabama

September 18, 1999

GOOD SPRINGS, Ala. (AP) _ More than 1,000 wildfires have burned 15,584 acres across Alabama since early August, including a blaze Friday that forced the closing of a rural school about 20 miles northwest of Birmingham.

Officials said the fire here was under control Friday afternoon and posed no threat to the T.W. Martin School, but thick, black smoke hung across the school yard.

``The wind is a terrible problem, and the low humidity,″ said Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman with the Alabama Forestry Commission. ``It makes the ignition point lower, it burns hotter and it burns more erratically.″

Gov. Don Siegelman declared a drought emergency for 33 northern counties Friday, making it illegal to do any kind of outdoor burning. He also activated an Alabama National Guard helicopter crew to help douse the wildfires burning in at least six counties.

Wayne Strawbridge, regional forester for the commission’s northwest region, said continued dry weather and high winds whipped up by Hurricane Floyd could mean devastation as bad as in 1987, when 6,000 acres a day were lost.

Officials said many of the blazes were sparked by people burning outside without a permit. Three people have been charged with arson.

At Huntsville Speedway, a blaze started Friday when a maintenance worker’s weed-cutting machine caught fire and then spread to four VIP booths, concession stands and the speedway office complex. Track officials said it wouldn’t delay the 2000 season opener set for March 31.

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