Wildfires- a Real Danger We Can Prevent
The spring and summer of 2011 has been a very strange experience in the United States. There were a record number of tornadoes in the southeast and central states. The New York had a hurricane, a tornado and flooding in a period of a week. The rivers in New Jersey, Vermont and Pennsylvania were many feet over flood stage and remained high for an extended period of time. Ohio has had 20 inches more rain by September than they usually get in a year.
By contrast the south central and the southwest states have hot and drought conditions. The Dallas area had a record number of days over 100 degrees- 70. That area has had 3.5 inches of rain in the last two and a half months. Soccer and baseball organizations have to continually review fields for deep cracks and fissures in the ground that could cause serious injury. Wildfires have been burning out of control- fanned by high winds and supported by a tinder dry environment. In fact wildfires in Texas have burned an area larger than the state of Connecticut.
There is not much we can do about hurricanes. Tornadoes have been discussed before and there are links below to those articles. We can only react to these potential disasters but we can act to help avoid wild fires. Even though the first day of fall is here, there is still a significant fire danger across much of the country. Safety precautions and procedures can prevent fires and save lives.
How big a problem is the drought and wildfire danger? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center the area of exceptional drought is 11.2% of the country. In 2011 nearly 54,000 fires had burned almost 7 million acres (data source is the National Interagency Fire Center).
According to the Global Crisis Solution Center “Less than 3% of all wildland fires are due to natural causes (lightning, etc.). Aside from arson, the principal cause of wildland fires is accidents or carelessness. Therefore, it is truly up to you to prevent the next wildland fire either through your own actions or that of others.”
In its article “Top 5 Ways that Wildfires Start,” howstuffworks looks at the leading human causes for starting wildfires.
- 5. Burning debris. Branches, leaves and yard debris are gathered into a pile and burned. Precautions to take-
- * Notify the fire department of your plans
- * Have a clear space around the fire that vertically is at least 3 times the height of the debris pile and horizontally there is a clear area at least 10 feet in all directions. The space should be well watered.
- * Ashes should be shoveled and watered several times to make sure the fire is completely out.
- 4. Equipment and Engine sparks. Embers from stoves or emissions from improperly tuned engines can start a fire.
- * Spark arrestors help eliminate this problem
- * Park vehicles on paved areas when possible.
- * Hot mufflers from ATVs can start grass fires
- 3. Lit cigarettes. Use the car ash tray. Tossing the cigarette out the car window or into the woods after a break is an excellent way to start a fire. Not smoking also helps eliminate this cause of fires.
- 2. Fireworks or similar pyrotechnics start many fires. Supervise their use and have plenty of water available. The worst offenders are the ones that look the nicest- the airborne explosions. These cover a wide area and burning pieces can be carried a long way by the wind.
- 1. The number one cause of wild fires is unattended campfires. When selecting a site for your fire-
- * Pick a location away from flammable items
- * Select a site that has some protection form the wind
- * The fire should be in a pit and the pit should be ringed by rocks
- * Bonfires look great but are very dangerous. Keep fires to a manageable size.
- * The last recommendation is one that is tough for me to make. When going to sleep for the night, the fire should be completely extinguished- water, turn the ashes over, and water again. On most of my camping trips I have let the embers burn down then “banked” the fire by covering the embers with ashes. This generally allows for enough coals to be left in the morning to start the breakfast fire. Properly done this technique is probably OK but it is not the best practices for protecting our wilderness.
Wildfires are a major danger to forest lands, property and human lives. Most of the fires are caused by human carelessness or inattention to the danger. As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
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