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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Spotted this week: A sign on Plymouth United Church of Christ on the corner of Berry Street and Fairfield Avenue reads "Please Let it Rain."

Dry period saps yards, risks blazes

Region in moderate drought

– What is typically one of the wettest parts of the year is now full of brown grass, hard soil, cloudless days and brush fires.

About 90 percent of the state is abnormally dry and 40 percent has been plunged into a moderate drought, including nearly all of the northeast corner, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

"It kind of expanded eastward and northward," Courtney Obergfell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Syracuse, said in describing how the drought conditions spread in the northeast over the past day or so.

There is no sizable rain on the horizon, according to Obergfell, or at least little chance of any in the next week. And even if there are a few drops – there could be a few "disturbances" Sunday or Monday, Obergfell said – it will do no good.

"We're so far behind that if we got a little rain it wouldn't be much help," she said. "The soil is almost like cement."

In Fort Wayne, 10.40 inches of rain have fallen this year – 6.37 inches below normal.

As conditions worsened, more counties began enacting burn bans or warning residents to be careful if they need to do any open burning.

Burn bans have been issued in Allen, Kosciusko Noble, LaGrange and Steuben counties. The cities of Kendallville and Angola also issued burn bans, with Kendallville and Steuben County banning fireworks until further notice.

"Activities like grilling, fireworks and backyard fires have the potential to cause sizable fires," a statement from the Allen County commissioners said. "Even seemingly harmless actions like driving over or parking on dry grass, or dropping a lit cigarette on the ground could spark a fire."

On Tuesday, firefighters from the Southwest Fire District battled a grass blaze believed to have been started by someone discarding a cigarette off Interstate 69 just north of Illinois Road.

"Typically, this is the wettest part of the year," Obergfell said. "We don't normally worry about fires."

Associate state climatologist Ken Scheeringa said that unless significant rain falls in the next two weeks, farmers throughout the state could see reduced yields and the risk of field fires will spread.

In far southwest Indiana, a severe drought has taken hold in areas where rainfall is running about 10 inches below normal for the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.