Wildfire Season Means Outdoor Burners Must Be Cautious

brush-fire-2JEFFERSON COUNTY, Pa. (EYT) – The middle of spring in Pennsylvania is wildfire season, and right now, the danger rating is high across the region.

Clear Creek State Forest District Forester Gary Frank said the conditions of high winds, warm temperatures, and low humidity are a combination that make for an increased chance of wildfires.

“It was moderate, but it went to high with these conditions,” Frank said. “Our fire season runs from the end of March to the middle of May. Until the vegetation greens up, the risk is higher.”

Clear Creek State Forest encompasses parts of Clarion, Venango, Jefferson, and Forest counties. The total acreage is a little more than 16,000 acres.

According to the National Weather Service, the humidity was less than 30 percent on Monday with southwest winds at about 21 miles per hour and gusts of more than 30 mph.

The threat could decrease in some areas as the NWS is forecasting a chance of rain, but Frank pointed out that the showers tend to be scattered, and while one part of a county may be wet, another could be very dry.

According to the Clarion Blaze, the Clear Creek State Forest newsletter, the top cause of wildfires in 2016 was debris burning. Of 59 fires reported on the State Forest, 45 were due to debris burning. Those fires covered 162.25 acres.

The largest wildfire in the district was 47 acres, and it occurred on April 18 in Sandy Lake Township in Mercer County.

BOF (Bureau of Forestry) personnel, nine volunteer fire departments, and support crew from the district responded. They used a controlled backfire to get the fire contained by 7;00 p.m. after it began around noon.

Across the state, the story was the same. A total of 853 wildfires were reported and 380 were the result of debris fires that got out of control.

“We mainly ask people to not burn on days with dry, windy conditions with low humidity,” Frank said. “It doesn’t take much for something to get going when the conditions are like this.”

There are also good alternatives to burning debris outside, including recycling mixed paper, plastics and other household trash.

Composting leaves and chipping or mulching sticks or just build a brush pile for critters away from the home and other outbuildings are other ways to avoid outdoor burning.

For those who must burn, it’s important to use a metal barrel in good condition. It should have three evenly-spaced, 3-inch vents covered by a metal screen or holes less than one-half inch.

The barrel should be 6-10 inches off the ground on metal legs or cement blocks. The barrel should be covered by a metal screen with holes not larger than one-half inch.

The area around the barrel should be cleared down to dirt or rocks in a 10-foot diameter.

Frank said the volunteer fire companies across the region do a great job of keeping an eye out for fires and explaining the dangers of debris fires to the public.

“They do a great job of spreading the word and keeping an eye on things,” Frank said.

BOF employees have not had to respond to any wildfires, yet. Frank said the volunteer companies have handled the ones that have broken out.

According to the state Bureau of Forestry website, all fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape.

Fires spread rapidly, and short-distance spotting is common. High-intensity burning may develop on slopes or in concentrations of fine fuels. Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are attacked successfully while small.

With the first day of trout season beginning Saturday, many outdoors-lovers will be out fishing, camping and having fires.

For campfires, it’s good to either have a metal ring or a ring of good-sized rocks and dig the pit down to the dirt.

When doing any kind of outdoor burning, it’s good to keep a bucket or two of water available.

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