It has been a dry October in Lafayette County. With the exception of a shower on Oct. 14, the lack of roll has affected local residents and businesses including The Barn Trading Company, a small garden center at 2657 W. Oxford Loop.
“The lack of rain forces us to run up our water bill,” said Benjamin McKenna, assistant manager of The Barn, “because we have to water all of our plants at least three times a day when we normally only have to once.” McKenna said it also interferes with the store’s everyday services and customer satisfaction.
Sam Roberts, a landscaper for The Barn, described a typical day at the store. “We usually get a delivery for someone and plant it for them at their house,” Roberts said. “But with it being this dry, it’s so hard to plant anything. We have to use a pickaxe just to get the plant in the ground.”
Roberts said the heat itself is not a big problem, but it magnifies the water issue. “You have to use a lot of water,” he said. “The heat soaks the water right out of the plant, so you have to water it two to three times a day.”
After working around complications brought on by the lack of rain, The Barn still gets unhappy customers.
“Clients often come back thinking they got a bad plant,” McKenna said. “That’s not the case. With conditions like this, plants require lots of attention. Even after we close up the store for the day, our plants are on irrigation from 6 p.m. until midnight.”
McKenna and Roberts both said their products must be kept in the best shape.
“Being a business in Oxford, we have a lot of wealthy people coming in,” McKenna said. “They want the best, so their expectations are high. Obviously, having to manually water everything only makes it more difficult.”
Roberts said it can take one person five hours to water every plant in the store.
On Oct. 3, the Mississippi Forestry Commission issued a Burn Ban for the majority of counties in North Mississippi including Lafayette. Despite the brief rain, the burn ban is still in effect.
“A Burn Ban means do not burn anything,” said Adam Patton, lieutenant at Oxford Fire Department. “And if you see any kind of fire, report it. Cooking fires are fine, but only use a gas grill, and keep it about five feet away from the nearest grass.”
Patton said even plants are becoming a fire hazard.
“Stumps are even burning underground,” he said. “If you are grilling outside, and a fire starts in the grass, it could quickly and easily spread to bigger things like trees and buildings. Embers from those fires could carry in the wind for miles and easily start a fire somewhere else, too.”
The penalty for violating a burn ban is a misdemeanor, along with a $100 to $500 fine. If the Mississippi Forestry Commission has to get involved, it can charge a service fee in addition to the fine.
Dry conditions have caused a significant increase in amount of fires reported. “Normally, the fire department gets about three calls a day,” said Patton. “Recently, we seem to get at least 10 calls every day.”
Patton said the increase in calls makes things difficult for volunteer firemen who work other jobs and have families to care for, because they are being pulled from their homes to stop a fire about three times more often than before.
“We measure moisture on a (Keetch-Byram Drought Index) scale,” Patton said. “The highest it goes is 800, which is extreme desert conditions. Oxford is currently fluctuating between 730 and 750.”
Patton said this is the highest he has seen Oxford’s KBDI rating since 2013 when it reached 720.
Today, the Lafayette County Fire Department’s Facebook page reinforced the burn ban. The Mississippi Forestry Commission warned against campfires, bonfires, fire pits, fire rings, burn barrels, brush piles, debris burning, and anything with an open flame and spark.
“We are almost in a state of severe drought,” Patton said. “We are not on a state-wide burn ban yet, but I would not be surprised if it is on it’s way.”