Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn is urging Pennsylvanians be mindful of woodland fire danger as seasonal wildfire risk increases.
“Spring is here and that means more people spending time recreating outdoors, which is why it is important to remind the public of the danger of wildfires,” Dunn said. “One act of carelessness when lighting a camp or bonfire could prove disastrous among tinder-dry conditions in some of our forests, where wildfire dangers climb with each day of sun and wind.”
The greatest danger of wildfires in Pennsylvania occurs during the spring months of March, April, and May, and the autumn months of October and November.
In Pennsylvania, 99 percent of all wildfires are caused by people. Certain conditions are necessary for a wildfire to occur: An available fuel source, such as dried grass or leaves. Dry conditions, including low relative humidity. An ignition source — some way for the fire to start.
DCNR encourages those starting a fire at home or at a campsite to make sure there are no combustible items within 10 feet of the fire.
Additionally, it is recommended to have a rake or shovel along with water to properly suppress the embers of a fire. Finally, officials recommend checking DCNR’s website to see if there is an elevated fire risk.
Volunteer and Bureau of Forestry firefighters are frequently dispatched to wildfires outside of Pennsylvania during the summer months and they also respond to wildfires during this busy season. That responsibility extends to Pennsylvania’s 17 million acres of private and state-owned woodlands.
“Our firefighters work hard to suppress blazes year-round and many of them are preventable if people take the proper steps to practice safe behaviors,” State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger said.
“We want to remind people to be careful with campfires and backyard burning, and to take the proper precautions at all times. It can help save lives and protect wildlife habitats.”
Advice from DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry includes: Clear the area around the fire prior to starting it; Keep the fire small and never leave it unattended; Before you strike a campfire match, first consider if it is too warm, dry or windy for a fire and if the surrounding area is free of leaves and other combustibles; Make sure there is a ready source of water (bucket or hose) nearby and a rake to extinguish any embers that might escape; and When you are done with the fire put it out with water until all ashes are cold to the touch.
Thousands of acres of state and private woodlands are burned by wildfires each year.
Debris burning, equipment use, power lines, and campfires, are some of the most common causes of wildfires in Pennsylvania. Light rainfall in many areas, lack of green foliage in the spring, low humidity and sunny, windy days all combine to increase chances of forest and brush fires spreading. Such fires are almost always traced to human carelessness.
Residents are also advised to create “safe zones” around homes and cabins by removing leaves and other debris from the ground and rain gutters, stacking firewood away from structures and trimming overhanging branches.
Wildfire prevention is a message brought to people across the country by the well-known figure, Smokey Bear. Detailed information about wildfire prevention as well as materials for kids and educators is on the SmokeyBear.com.