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Report: Majority of state parched

Thursday, June 21, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- At least 80 percent of Indiana is suffering at least a moderate drought and the state's southwestern corner has extreme drought conditions, according to a national watchdog's report released Thursday.

The lingering parched conditions have prompted more than 40 of Indiana's 92 counties to implement open burning bans, with local officials worried about fires spreading quickly from tinder-dry grass and vegetation.

Counties in the Evansville area are the driest, while a wide swath of the state from around Lafayette to north of Fort Wayne is in a severe drought, according to the new U.S. Drought Monitor map.

Much of the state has gone for weeks without significant rain. The National Weather Service has recorded rainfall of just one-hundredth of an inch for June in Indianapolis through Wednesday, said meteorologist Amanda Homann.

"Everywhere's pretty dry," Homann said Thursday, with the highest rainfall in the state reported at a quarter of an inch. "You can't get any drier than a hundredth."

Rainfall in the Evansville area was 11.37 inches below average for the year, said Deanna Lindstrom, a program supervisor with the weather service office in Paducah, Ky.

State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said sporadic grass fires have been reported around the state in recent weeks, but nothing severe. That could change if the dry weather continues, he said.

"It's very easy to create a spark in many ways, just doing outside work with tools and things," Greeson said. "And it doesn't take a lot of spark to catch dry grass on fire."

Most of Indiana's 831 fire departments are adequately equipped to deal with grass fires, Greeson said, but multiple fires could tax their resources and burn out of control.

"That's the real danger," he said.

Another fire hazard at this time of the year is fireworks, Greeson said, but there's only so much officials can do to lower that risk.

Under a state law passed in 2007, local governments aren't allowed to restrict the use of fireworks during certain hours from June 29 through July 8, he said.

However, he said, some counties have handled burn bans through disaster declarations and included fireworks. Those local prohibitions haven't been challenged in court, he said.

The state climate office at Purdue University said farmers could lose crop yields due to the dry weather that has dominated much of Indiana since May.

A line of showers that moved into the state Thursday afternoon wasn't expected to provide much moisture, and the climate office said the outlook was for more above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through most of July.

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