The entire Stone County, Mississippi County Wildfire Protection Plan is available for download by clicking HERE.
Stone County is located in the south central portion of the State of Mississippi and is rural in character. The City of Wiggins is the only incorporated municipality. The county has three other communities located along U.S. Highway 49: McHenry, Perkinston, and Bond. U.S. Highway 49, the major north/south transportation route in southern Mississippi, dissects the county. It provides direct access to the Gulf Coast and the state capital in Jackson. Running east and west throughout the county is Mississippi 26, which intersects U.S. Highway 49 in Wiggins. These transportation arteries allow the county easy access to major economic markets.
The population of Stone County in 2000 was 13,622, evidencing a growth rate of 26.7% since 1990, much faster than the 10.6% reported for the previous ten-year period from 1980-1990. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a 2006 population of 14,670, reflecting a 7.7% increase since the previous census. The Census Bureau projection for Stone County’s population in the 2010 census is 18,325; this would be a 34.5% increase for the ten-year period.
Stone County contains 446 square miles with land largely held by private landowners. Approximately 80% of county land area is contained within commercial forests. Recreational opportunities in Stone County are facilitated by the proximity of the DeSoto National Forest, Flint Creek Water Park, Little Biloxi Game Management Area, Pine Burr Golf Course and the Red Creek Game Management Area. The George Austin House in McHenry is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The climate of Stone County is mild with mean annual temperatures in the upper 60’s. Average winter temperatures range from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit; average January temperature is 47 degrees. Summer temperatures range from 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average July temperature of 81 degrees. Rainfall averages approximately 42.2 inches annually with the majority of the accumulation from July to September. County wind speeds are generally less than 10 miles per hour, but often increase during storms. Thunderstorms occur frequently and are sometimes accompanied by strong to severe winds, including tornadoes.
Because of relatively high annual precipitation amounts, Stone 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 Stone 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 (November 27, 2007) indicates that Stone County is not currently considered to be in a drought condition.
Stone County is one of the fastest growing counties in Mississippi. Strategically located north of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the county is experiencing rapid growth in industrial and residential development. A 2006 population study performed by the University of Southern Mississippi identified approximately 5,000 acres currently under development or in the planning stages, primarily in the southern part of the county near McHenry. Due to this growth, there has been an increase in the service area that the Stone County Volunteer Fire Departments protect. As development increases in the future so will the demands placed on the volunteer fire departments. According to the Stone County Emergency Management Agency, most of the wildfires that occur are due to lightning strikes, arson, uncontrolled burns by citizens and carelessness.
Stone County is divided into seven rural fire response areas covering the unincorporated portions of the county. An eighth district covers the incorporated City of Wiggins. An additional district is planned but not yet operational. These districts/response areas are manned by volunteers who act as first responders to the fires within the county.