As the weather continues to remain dry and there seems to be no more rain in sight for the time being, one thing remains clear for Chief Ranger Denise Croker: it's a good thing the burn ban is still in effect.
The burn ban, extended past the Oct. 1 deadline by local officials, was allowed to continue to avoid any major fires from spreading in the area.
However, Croker said that conditions are so dry right now, anything short of a cigarette could light off a fire at the moment.
"We've not had significant rain throughout the county in months, and we've got none projected for the time being," said Croker. "And it doesn't look like we're going to have anything real until December... We need a name with a rain."
She said small brush fires have been reported being started from something as simple as chains dragging from a trailer riding down the road, or a catalytic converter or muffler sitting for too long over dry spots.
"If conditions continue like this, even a cigarette could start a fire not too long from now," she said.
Croker previously reported that local residents would have to dig down seven inches to find moisture in the soil right now, and the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska said drought conditions have spread throughout the southeast, especially in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and parts of North Carolina.
She said for now, residents who are used to burning brush and debris form their yard will simply have to wait until the ban is lifted to light their fires, or have the yard waste mulched.
In fact, she promotes the latter option for the simple reason it provides residents with a low cost option to get rid of their debris and put it back to good use in the soil.
Croker emphatically asks that people get away from burning.
"Our fuel moisture is in critical condition, which in turn translates to how easily they're going to start," she said. "Someone might have green grass in their yard, but by 2 p.m. it's going to burn. There's just no water in the soil, there's no moisture in the fuel."
Croker said once a frost hits as well, she's also worried about the further increase of greater fire risks in Polk County since there is a thick and dry carpet of leaves and debris in areas covered by trees.
"The likelihood of a fire escaping control is at the 97 percentile, and the likelihood of us being able to control it early is poor," she said. "We're a spark away from losing houses, from losing acreage and most importantly from losing life, whether it be a homeowner or a first responder trying to battle the fire."