The entire Jackson County, Mississippi County Wildfire Protection Plan is available for download by clicking HERE.
Jackson County is located in the southeastern section of Mississippi and is one of the State’s three coastal counties. It is bordered on the south by the Mississippi Sound; the Mississippi-Alabama state line forms Jackson County’s eastern border. Primarily urban in character, Jackson County has a large manufacturing base. With strategically located waterways, the county has often been described as the most industrialized county in the state. Pascagoula is the largest city in the area, with Moss Point, Ocean Springs, and Gautier being the other incorporated areas.
Jackson County has excellent transportation routes that include rail, air and seaports. State Highway 63 and State Highway 57, major north-south arteries, provide access to upland counties in the state and connections to U.S. Highway 98. U. S. Highway 90 and Interstate 10 traverse the county from east to west, linking Jackson County to Mobile, Alabama on the east; New Orleans, Louisiana on the west; and all other major cities and markets.
The population of Jackson County in 2000 was 131,420, evidencing a 14% growth in residency since 1990 and strongly reversing the 2.4% population loss registered in the prior ten-year period from 1980-1990. The U. S. Census Bureau estimated a 2006 population of 131,351, a slight decrease since 2000. The decrease may be largely attributable to the population exodus following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, although recent years have also shown a gradual loss of industry in the county and a shift toward a more diverse economy. Despite these considerations, however, Jackson County is experiencing a remarkable recovery and the economy is robust. Major redevelopment projects such as the Riverfront Development Plan in Pascagoula, the revitalization of downtown Moss Point, and the Ocean Springs Front Beach Master Plan provide ample confidence to believe that Jackson County’s population will rebound. By 2010, the population is projected to rise to 156,628; if realized, this 19.2% increase during the ten-year period from 2000-2010 will continue the strong growth rate seen over the last two decades.
Jackson County contains 731 square miles, with land largely held by private landowners. Approximately 72% of the county land area is contained within commercial forests. Recreational activities in the area are enhanced by the proximity of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Shepard State Park, Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge, the Pascagoula River Game Management Area, and the Pascagoula and Escatawpa Rivers. The Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitors Center is a designated Mississippi Historic Landmark.
Jackson 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. Driest month is October; 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, Jackson 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 Jackson 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 Jackson County is not currently considered to be in a drought condition.
About 72 percent of the land in Jackson County is use-classified as timber, open, or agriculture, creating an enhanced risk to the county of wildfires. Streams and drainage basins create natural barriers that help reduce this risk. Woodlands fires are controlled by rural firefighting departments and/or forestry service personnel. Based on historical occurrences, wildfires can be expected annually in the less urbanized parts of the county. It is the threat of a spread of rural wildfires to the urban fringe that poses the greatest concern. Mitigation measures such as prescribed burns, training and equipping firefighters, and public education on fire protection and Firewise strategies all help to control the risk to life and property.
While climate conditions and debris can cause ignitability, certain industrial operations and facilities can also raise the threat of fire. Major transportation arteries through Jackson County such as Interstate 10, U. S. Highway 90, and Highways 57 and 63 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.
With the tremendous growth projected for Jackson County over the next five to ten years, demands placed on the volunteer fire departments of the county will also increase. Jackson County is divided into nine fire response areas covering the unincorporated portions of the county from 25 fire stations strategically located throughout the County. The rural fire response areas are: East Central, Fountainbleau, Fort Bayou, Forts Lake, Latimer, Three Rivers, Vancleave, West Jackson, and Gulf Park/St. Andrews. All Fire Response Areas within the county, including Station Location(s), and Number of Volunteers, are listed below. All of the fire departments are manned by volunteers who receive no compensation for fire protection services. Total number of volunteers is based on current staffing levels, but seasonal fluctuations occur.