Wildfire possibly started by grill ember
GULF SHORES, Ala. - Officials aren't 100 percent sure, but they have a very good idea of what started the fire.
Gulf Shores State Park Superintendent Mike Guinn said an ember from a grill is more than likely what caused the massive fire in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to start.
Guinn said they have no proof, but he does know charcoal is not to blame for the blaze.
The fire started in Gulf State Park Saturday and has burned 500 to 600 acres.
Guinn said a group from out of town was camping and grilling out. He said he believes that the grill was the origin of the fire.
"The best we can figure out is possibly a hot ember came out of the grill, but nobody dumped anything. In fact, there would have been positive evidence of that. In fact, the coals are still in the grill," said Guinn.
It was suspected that charcoal was dumped out and was to blame for the blaze. Guinn said that rumor is not true, but that the fire could have been avoided.
Guinn said, "He did leave the grill unattended for about three hours before we got the call."
According to the Regional Alabama Forester, Gary Cole, the fire is about 80 to 90 percent contained. Cole said the remaining 20 percent is the most dangerous part of the fire.
Strategic planning for the morning is going on well into the night, and executing the plan is critical in containing that last part of the fire to prevent homes and businesses from being affected.
The plan for Tuesday morning is to burn what officials call "fuel." That's any other wooded areas that would feed the fire and give it more power. The idea is to burn areas in a controlled environment versus letting the fire take them over and continue burning. Tuesday morning's plan is not a "last option," but crews are putting a lot faith into the burn off plan.
Cole said, "Tomorrow morning, if everything goes right, we plan to do what we call a burn out and bring helicopters and water buckets and personnel on hand. The volunteer fire departments will be here, and we will have a controlled atmosphere, and we can actually set fire and let it all burn down into this area and let it burn completely out."
When it's all said and done, a fire that started from a small ember will have burned a large portion of the woods at the beach.
"It could be as much as a 1,000 acres. It's unfortunate that we have to burn this area, but we are trying to protect property and lives," Cole said.
Governor Bentley declared a State of Emergency for Baldwin County due to the fire. State resources are being used to contain the fire as quickly as possible.
“Local officials are working around the clock to contain this fire, and I am hopeful they will be successful,” said Governor Bentley. “The fires have not affected the beaches of Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. I want to encourage people who have plans to travel to the gulf for the upcoming holiday to continue with their vacation plans.”
Governor Bentley has directed the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and Alabama Forestry Commission to provide the necessary assessment of damages and seek state and federal assistance for the affected areas.