Despite statewide news reports that as many as a third of this year’s estimated 3,000 wildfires in Alabama were the result of arson, local officials say they have no ongoing arson investigations.

In a story reported by The Associated Press Monday, a spokesperson for the Alabama Forestry Commission said about 1,300 wildfires occurring in the state since Jan. 1 were set intentionally by arsonists.

But according to county forestry manager Michael Jones, as of Monday, Cullman County had no ongoing investigations into arson-related wildfires. The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office and the Cullman City Police Department gave the same reports.

Jones did say the percentage given by the state was “about right” for the number of local arson incidents. Since Jan. 1, he said, there have been a number of small brush and wildfires in Cullman County determined to be the result of arson.

“It’s terribly difficult to say exactly who is responsible for setting these fires,” he said. “We’ve had a few, very small fires that were deemed to be arson. Of course if it was a large fire, our investigation would be more in depth.”

State and local officials are keeping a close watch on all outdoor fires this year. According to a forestry commission spokesperson, Louis Hyman, exceptional drought conditions over 11,500 square miles of North Alabama are making wildfires unpredictable and dangerous.

He urged all Alabama residents to comply with no-burn orders and restrictions on fireworks this year.

According the National Weather Service in Huntsville, as of Monday, Cullman County was about 18 inches below normal for rainfall this year, making the first half of 2007 the driest in more than a century and classifying much of North Alabama in “exceptional drought,” this highest classification.

Officials say the drought has contributed to a number of small wildfires, brush fires and hay fires across the county this year. Earlier this month, a farmer in the Goldridge community reported losing more than 200 bales of hay to fire.

In response to the high-risk situation, state and local officials are issuing instructions on how to comply with the current no-burn order and mandating that residents comply. According to the forestry commission, the ban includes all campfires and bonfires. It also includes burning trash or debris and shooting fireworks.

Those found to be in violation could be fined up to $500 and sentenced to up to six months in jail.

According to the ordinance, enclosed barbecue grills and pits are not included in the ban, but residents should have water hoses on site to prevent sparks from setting a fire.

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