Its been hot and dry in Ohio, and the late summer days are bringing us closer to the states fall wildfire season. During the months of October and November, our forests and grasslands become more vulnerable to these destructive, out of control blazes.
For most folks, the words wildfire and Ohio might not seem to go together. After all, we havent seen the enormous, tree-eating infernos that ravage many of Americas western lands. Yet each year, about 1,000 wildfires consume a total of 4,000-6,000 acres of forest and grassland in our state. In fact, in the drought of 1999, Ohio lost more than 8,000 acres to wildfires.
More than 30 percent of Ohio is forested. The majority of that canopy falls within whats known as the forest fire protection district, which covers much of eastern and southeastern Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) oversees the protection of this area in cooperation with more than 300 rural volunteer fire departments.
In Ohio, lightning is not a factor in sparking wildfires, as it is in the western United States. Too much rain accompanies our electrical storms, leaving the leading cause of woodland fires to human carelessness and arson. These fires result in untold damage to trees and landscape, wildlife, water quality and destruction of outbuildings. They also place people and their homes at significant risk.
Its important to understand that wildfires here in Ohio are just as dangerous and unpredictable as the out-of-state fires we see on television, said Nate Kirk, fire-control expert with ODNR.
Ohio has two wildfire seasons, in the spring (March to May) before vegetation has greened-up, and in the fall, when leaves begin to drop. So, what is it about these times of the year that puts outdoors Ohio more at risk for wildfires?
Three elements make these periods more likely to experience wildfires: they feature warm days with high winds and low humidity. When these conditions are present, dry leaves and other woody debris are ready fuel for a carelessly tossed cigarette or an unattended fire.
That makes outdoor fire safety a must as we approach Ohios fall fire season and here is what you can do to help.
- First and foremost, never leave any kind of fire unattended.
- Use common sense when open-burning.
- Do not burn within 200 feet of any woodland, brushland or field with dry grass.
- Use a proper burning container or barrel with a lid.
- Always keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby in case the fire escapes containment.
Open burning is regulated by local ordinances and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Throughout Ohios wildfire seasons, forestry laws prohibit open burning in rural areas between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. a period of the day when wildfires are most likely to occur and are most difficult to control.
If you detect a wildfire, immediately contact the nearest fire or law enforcement authority. Do not attempt to put the blaze out yourself. Extinguishing a fire requires specialized training and the unwary Good Samaritan could be quickly overwhelmed by the ferocity of the flames.
The ODNR Division of Forestry offers training to rural volunteer firefighters, ranging from basic wildfire instruction to specialized fire-suppression skills. Each year, several of these highly trained professionals become part of a multi-state team to help suppress major forest fires out West.
When fire is a factor, do your part and play it safely. And, remember, as Smokey Bear says, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.