BATESVILLE — What a difference two years makes.
June 2010 was a record-setting soggy month for Batesville, with 10.58 inches of rain, breaking the old record of 10.35 inches set in 1949.
The June 2012 total is just the opposite – a scant 0.85 inch, including 0.09 inch June 29, far lower than the 5.04-inches average since 1998, according to Bates-ville Water and Gas Utility records.
Batesville Fire Chief Todd Schutte reported Friday, “It’s just a big tinderbox out there. If it continues to be hot like it is today ... I think we’re going to be in dire straits” for the potential for blazes.
Burn bans have been issued for all but eight of Indiana's 92 counties, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security Web site.
The Franklin County Commissioners signed an executive order June 25. They “do not wish to prohibit previously scheduled ceremonial and celebratory burning events, such as bonfires and organized cookouts. However, such events shall be approved and/or monitored by the respective fire departments ...”
According to the commissioners, county fire departments “have responded to an increasing number of brush fires and wildfires, which are endangering lives and destroying property ...”
Ripley County Commissioners signed a similar resolution June 29.
Personal fireworks are not included in the bans. Indiana Code 22-11-14-10.5 prevents local ordinances from prohibiting the use of fireworks between 5 p.m. and two hours after sunset June 29-July 3 and July 5-9 and also between 10 a.m.-midnight July 4.
“We're seeing conditions now that people haven't seen before,” points out Steve Creech, a retired state fire coordinator and lecturer for Purdue University's Depart-ment for Forestry and Natural Resources, in a Purdue University News Service release.
“There's a possibility for significant loss if people aren't extremely careful with fireworks.”
The Batesville chief wishes residents would skip the pyrotechnics around the holiday. “There are other ways to celebrate the Fourth of July.”
He observes, “It may be legal for you to shoot them off, but if you cause a fire on your neighbor’s property, you’re liable.”
Persons who insist on lighting sparklers and bigger displays should use common sense, he says. “Make sure you have water available. Check (the area) afterwards to insure there is nothing out there burning.” Creech suggests that anyone shooting off fireworks “find an area such as a large parking lot that is paved and nowhere near combustible materials. Better than that, even, would be to wait until after a prolonged, soaking rain can add more moisture to the ground and vegetation to reduce the risk,” the report said.
Dry grasses, forests and fields are especially combustible. Creech predicts, "They will ignite very easily.” Fires could spread rapidly, “especially if there's a wind behind them. Sometimes they'll spread faster than a person can walk. Those fires can get to structures before anyone has time to react."
With the bans, smokers should not discard cigarettes outside. Fire pits can’t be used and camp fires and brush fires are forbidden, the fire chief says.
Another Purdue University News Service report, dated June 28, says the combined drought and high heat are stressing crops and farmers alike.
“Most of the state is now in either moderate, severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor ... Extreme drought – the second-highest level of drought – spread across southwest Indiana and developed in many counties in the northeast.
“Areas faring relatively better are Indiana's extreme northwest and southeast counties, which are rated abnormally dry – a category designated to monitor possible future drought ....
“Because crops were planted early this spring, plants are at growth stages when they are transpiring moisture from the soil at a rapid rate, meaning soil moisture is being consumed faster than it can be replaced, even with a return to normal rainfall.
“‘Much of Indiana's corn crop has entered pollination, a critical period in plant development. With extreme temperatures and no rain, pollination success is likely to vary widely from field to field and even within fields. Some fields could suffer complete pollination failure,’” said Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service corn specialist.
He urges growers to monitor fields and plan ahead for marketing and other financial decisions for harvest. Farmers remember conditions in 1988, when a drought devastated crops.
“‘I'm not sure if we can yet say this is on par with '88, but I think we're a close second,’ Nielsen said. ‘There's no question this drought is getting worse, not better. I'm a heck of a lot more pessimistic than I was a couple of weeks ago.’”
Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt estimated corn yields could already be down by as much as 14 percent and soybean yields by 12 percent. According to the report, “The potentially good news for growers is that the commodities markets have taken notice of the reduced yields, with corn futures now trading 15 percent higher than they were early in the season. Soybean futures have made a smaller jump, up 7 percent. “But while higher prices could be a revenue balance for growers who have a crop, they do little to help those who lose an entire crop. They also have the potential to strain the budgets of livestock producers who rely on grain to feed their herds.”