Two boys skateboard along Levee Street on Tuesday afternoon. The Wabash River at the Lincoln Memorial Bridge is at just 3 feet and is expected to fall to just 1.8 feet later this week — its second-lowest level ever. Knox County also on Tuesday officially entered the first drought stage of “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Sun-Commercial photo by Jenny McNeece
Two boys skateboard along Levee Street on Tuesday afternoon. The Wabash River at the Lincoln Memorial Bridge is at just 3 feet and is expected to fall to just 1.8 feet later this week — its second-lowest level ever. Knox County also on Tuesday officially entered the first drought stage of “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Sun-Commercial photo by Jenny McNeece
On the first official day of fall, Knox County fell right into early drought stage.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated every Tuesday, and this week, Knox County entered the “abnormally dry” — or the first — phase of drought, joining more than half the Hoosier state due to a lack of rain in August and September.

Observers with the National Weather Service reported just a tenth of an inch of rain so far this month; normal rainfall totals for September are just over 2.5 inches.

Likewise, Terre Haute has only received 1.95 inches of rain since the first of August, which is 4.2 inches below normal, and the Indianapolis International Airport on Tuesday marked just a tenth of an inch of rain in 34 days.

Other Indiana counties — specifically Daviess, Martin and Lawrence — have all implemented burn bans due to worsening drought conditions, and Knox County may not be too far behind, according to county commission president Kellie Streeter.

She said the commissioners are working closely with Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director John Streeter in making the call; one is likely to come on Tuesday when the U.S. Drought Monitor is updated yet again.

“We’ll look at that and confirm with (fire officials) and decide on what to do,” she said. “But there is potential, and we are monitoring the situation carefully.”

Tim Smith, chief of the Vincennes Township Fire Department, said there has already been an uptick in brush and field fires. His crews responded to one on South Sixth Street Road Sunday afternoon; simultaneously, he heard firefighters in Steen Township respond to blaze there as well.

The fire on South Sixth Street Road, Smith said, was the result of someone burning debris in a yard unattended. It had just gotten to the edge of some unharvested corn, he said, when firefighters were able to put it out.

“If you’re going to burn, you’ve got to use some common sense,” Smith said, “and you’ve got to follow the rules.”

The burning of trash or debris, given the ongoing drought conditions, he said, should be done inside a non-combustable container with a mesh grate over the top to keep embers from escaping.

“Never burn directly on the ground,” Smith said, “and, for certain, stay with it, keep an eye on it and have a hose, a way of extinguishing the fire nearby.”

The same rules, he said, go for recreational fires.

“This is the time of year folks like to have weiner roasts, cook outs, bonfires, but you have to be careful even with those,” he said. “Keep them reasonably small and be sure the fire is out when you go inside.”

Smith said he heard from a man just this week who had a bonfire with his family, thought he’d extinguished it yet went out the next morning to find it still burning. It’s that kind of thing, in dry conditions, that can turn bad in a hurry, Smith said.

“You’ve got to make sure those fires are fully extinguished,” he said, adding that it is appropriate to call 911 in the event of a brush fire.

“I know that might sound silly to some, but I talked to a guy the other day who was trying to find the fire department’s number in the phone book to report the fire,” he said. “Don’t do that. Just call 911.”

For some, however, drought stage means less work — not more.

Hunter Pinnell, Wabash River Levee superintendent, said dry conditions usually mean a low river — sometimes a very low river.

The Wabash River at the Lincoln Memorial Bridge measured at just 3 feet on Tuesday, according to the NWS; it’s expected to fall to 1.8 feet by this time next week.
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