Harrison County Wildfire Protection Plan

The entire Harrison County, Mississippi County Wildfire Protection Plan is available for download by clicking HERE.

AREA DESCRIPTION

Harrison County is centrally located along the southern border of Mississippi. Bordered on the south by the Mississippi Sound, this coastal region has a dynamic, diversified economy and is strategically positioned on the Gulf of Mexico/Interstate 10 corridor between Alabama and Louisiana. The county is the urban center for economic and social activities in the southern portion of Mississippi. The cities of Biloxi and Gulfport comprise over 50% of the county’s population. The smaller incorporated areas of the county are Long Beach, Pass Christian, and D’Iberville. All of these incorporated areas are located in the coastal region of the county. Other significant unincorporated areas of the county include Pineville, Henderson Point, DeLisle, Lizana, Saucier, Woolmarket, and several others.

Harrison County benefits from excellent transportation routes by rail, air, and sea. U.S. Highway 49, the major north/south artery through the county terminates at U. S. Highway 90 in Gulfport. Interstate 10 traverses the county from east to west, providing easy accessibility to all major cities and markets. U.S. Highway 90 crosses the county from east to west directly along the beachfront, offering beautiful scenic vistas along the way as well as access to major tourist attractions and businesses in each of the incorporated cities. Major north-south connectors include Highways 603, 605, 607, Interstate 110, and Highways 57 and 67.

Air service from the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport has expanded tremendously over recent years. Options for daily travel out of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport now include nonstop jet service to eleven destinations: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Greensboro, Orlando-Sanford, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and St. Petersburg-Clearwater. Seasonal flights to and from select Canadian cities are also offered. Construction is slated to begin on an 800-space parking garage immediately following a ground-breaking in late January 2008; surface parking expansion and improvements have already been completed. The expansion of the terminal area from 92,000 sq. ft. to 165,000 sq. ft. was completed in December 2007, providing two additional gates, a larger lobby and ticket area, an enlarged baggage claim and security area, and improved surface road ingress/egress to the airport. Enhanced air cargo capacity is also planned for the near future.

Through the development of a world-class deep-water port strategically positioned on the Gulf of Mexico with direct access to sea-lanes, air, rail, and interstate highways, the Mississippi Coast is fast becoming a leader in international trade. The State Port at Gulfport moves over 2.3 million tons of cargo annually, including such diverse products as tropical fruit, ilmenite ore, aluminum, steel, paper, forest products and heavy lift cargoes. Gulfport is ranked as the 3rd busiest container port on the Gulf of Mexico and is 17th in the United States. This bulk, break-bulk and container seaport encompasses 204 acres, has nearly 6,000 feet of berthing space and a channel depth of 36 feet. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway lies 5 miles offshore from the port and crosses the port shipping channel. Interstate 10 is seven miles north of the port, allowing trucks to easily distribute products to 75% of U. S. markets within 24 hours. Although heavily damaged in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the port is making a strong comeback, handling over 1.6 million tons of cargo and shipping nearly 198,000 containers in CY 2006. A planned port expansion slated to begin in 2008 will significantly increase capacity.

Harrison County has a large military presence and population, with Keesler Air Force Base located in Biloxi, Naval Construction Battalion Center located in Gulfport and the Air National Guard Base in Gulfport.

The population of Harrison County in 2000 was 189,601, reflecting an increase of 14.7% since 1990. This most recent increase is a much steeper rate than the 4.9% recorded for the prior ten-year period from 1980-1990, and is consistent with a much larger, historic trend in population increase. By 2005, the county population had increased to 193,810. In 2000, the U. S. Census Bureau had projected an estimated population of 204,164 for Harrison County by 2010, but actual population has decreased since Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulf Coast communities in August of 2005. The estimated 2006 population in the aftermath of Katrina was 170,753, a significant decrease (9.9%) since 2000. The decrease is directly attributable to the loss of housing and population exodus following Hurricane Katrina. Despite the devastation of the storm, however, Harrison County is experiencing a remarkable recovery and the economy is strong. Once housing becomes available, there is considerable reason to believe that Harrison County’s population will rebound.

Harrison County contains 581 square miles of land area and 395.2 square miles of water area; land is largely held by private landowners. Approximately 68% of county land area is located within commercial forests. Public lands include the Desoto National Forest, Wolf River Game Management Area, Little Biloxi State Wildlife Management Area, and Big Biloxi Recreation Area. Designated Mississippi Landmarks located in Harrison County include Beauvoir, the home and presidential library of Jefferson Davis; the Biloxi Lighthouse, a cast iron lighthouse dating from 1847; the Hurricane Katrina Memorial at the Biloxi Town Green; Hurricane Katrina Tree Sculptures along the Beach Boulevard/Hwy 90 corridor, created from the ruins of damaged live oak trees; the USS Biloxi Bell/USS Biloxi Mast, memorabilia from World War II; the Friendship Oak, over 500 years old, at the Gulf Coast campus of the University of Southern Mississippi; and the Gulf Islands National Seashore barrier islands, just off the coastline. One of the barrier islands, Ship Island, is the site of Fort Massachusetts, dating back to the Civil War. Beauvoir is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harrison County has a fairly typical sub-tropical climate with humid, warm temperatures moderated by coastal breezes from the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico. Average spring temperature is 67 degrees Fahrenheit, with averages ranging from 57 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit; average winter temperatures range from 41 degrees to 62 degrees. Summer temperatures range from 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average July/August temperature of 91 degrees. Rainfall averages between 55 and 64 inches annually. The driest month is October and the wettest month is September. The prevailing wind direction is typically east-southeast to southeast at 6 to 12 knots; winds often increase during thunderstorms, which occur frequently and are sometimes accompanied by strong to severe winds, including tornadoes.

Because of relatively high annual precipitation amounts, Harrison County is not usually prone to property-damaging wildfires. However, occasional drought-like conditions prompt fire service officials to issue bans against burning, and encroachment of urban development into wildlands becomes more of a concern. Since the beginning of 2007, fire activity has been concentrated primarily in those parts of the United States that have experienced drought and abnormally dry conditions. Drought conditions contribute to an enhanced risk of wildfires affecting populated areas in Harrison County. For the Southeast region of the United States, the first 6 months of the year have been persistently dry. In fact, December 2006-May 2007 has been drier than average for 7 of the past 9 years. Mississippi had the driest December-May in their 113-year record. The latest U. S. Drought Monitor report (December 4, 2007) indicates that Harrison County is not currently considered to be in a drought condition.

While climate conditions and debris can cause ignitability, certain industrial operations and facilities can also raise the threat of fire. Major transportation arteries through Harrison County such as Interstate 10, Interstate 110, U. S. Highway 49, and U. S. Highway 90 are used daily to transport flammable, toxic and/or explosive materials, thus exposing the county to potential transportation incidents involving hazardous materials. Volunteer Fire Departments within the county serve as first responders if an incident involving hazardous materials occurs.

Harrison County is divided into five fire grading districts, with eleven rural fire departments covering the unincorporated portions of the county. The 11 fire departments are manned by volunteers who act as first responders to the fires within the county. These rural fire response areas are: Cuevas, DeLisle, West Harrison, Henderson Point, Lizana, Saucier, Success, North Woolmarket, County Farm Road, West Wortham Road, and East Harrison. All Fire Response Areas within the county, including Station Location(s), and Number of Volunteers, are listed below. Total number of volunteers is based on current staffing levels, but seasonal fluctuations occur.

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