FOREST COUNTY — As brush fires seem to be a daily occurrence in the area, Penn State Extension of Forest County Forest Resources Educator Scott Weikert provided some information to prevent disaster.
Springtime brings the promise of longer days and warmer weather. It is the cure for cabin fever and many people take advantage of the warmer weather to do some spring cleanup around the house or camp. Cleanup often involves removing sticks and leaves that have accumulated over the winter and may also include getting rid of larger debris items, such as cardboard boxes and perhaps some old furniture that was replaced over the winter. Area residents should remember that burning during this time of the year has a high danger of causing a wildfire.
In Pennsylvania, March, April, May, October and November are the months that have the highest risk for wildfires. During the spring the trees remain leafless allowing sunlight to melt the snow and dry out any fuel source that is on the ground. The fuel source could be dead branches, leaves and even grass that hasn’t yet sprouted for the year. When you couple the bright sunlight with weather conditions that are often windy with low relative humidity, you have the perfect scenario for a wildfire.
Pennsylvania doesn’t have the massive wildfires that we hear about on the news from states in the western part of the country due to different fuel types and weather. That doesn’t mean that we are not at risk. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) there were 1,508 wildfires in Pennsylvania in 2020 which burned 3,021 acres. In addition to the acres that were burned, 17 structures were destroyed along with 12 injuries and 2 fatalities. There was twice as many wildfires in Pennsylvania as the 10-year average which is 750 wildfires.
There are three things that are required for a wildfire to occur: a fuel source (such as dried, dead grass or leaves); dry conditions, which includes low relative humidity, and an ignition source. We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can control the ignition source in most cases. DCNR reports that in 99.5% of all the wildfires in Pennsylvania last year were caused by humans.
The leading cause of wildfires in Pennsylvania is people burning debris. Sometimes the fires may quickly move through the yard in dry grass. Other times ashes may blow into a grassy or forested area and cause the fire. Either way it is preventable. The simplest thing is to just not burn when conditions are very dry, windy, or both. Keep in mind, dry conditions does not just mean no rain for a while. It also includes low relative humidity. A weather pattern that is breezy with low relative humidity will dry out a fuel source very quickly, even after a rainstorm.
As you work on sprucing up your property this year, be conscious of the fire hazard and choose a different method to dispose of the leaves and sticks that have accumulated over the long winter or wait until conditions are perfect for not causing a wildfire.