Fire in the Sky

Fire in the Sky

Campfires are an every season occurrence for some…enthusiasts. A cool fall evening, a glowing winter night, or a warm summer evening, all sound excellent to me! Fire culture is probably different depending on geographical area and upbringing and there is also this mystical feeling that comes with fire–people seem to think it’s easily controlled. However, there are many factors that can change a well controlled fire in a matter of seconds. This brings me to another popular fire activity–burning yard debris.

What do you do with those piles of fallen leaves and broken branches? Well, fire is fun, but it’s also dangerous. While fires rage out west all summer long from hot, dry conditions (and human mischief and/or mistake), the fire season in the Northeast is actually during the spring and fall months when the most leaves are on the ground. Those are also the months when homeowners generally burn yard waste. Burning a little pile of leaves seems so harmless but, did you know that an ember can travel up to a mile (or more) depending on conditions. Meaning: there is a chance for your small yard pile to start a wildfire. These uncontrolled fires can cost hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars…a steep price tag for burning your yard debris.

I will also say here, that there are two kinds of “forest” fires: wild and prescribed (or controlled). ‘Wild’ are those that were started by accident (campfires left unattended…fireworks, etc), by lightning strikes, or intentionally but without a plan (aka arson). ‘Prescribed’ are those designed by fire experts and carried out by trained firefighters. They have a plan, a contingency plan, multiple resources, and are designed to be low intensity in order to replenish understory growth, encourage new tree sprouts, and benefit wildlife.  

So what are the options for the humble landowner? Well, today is a good day to burn because it rained in the last 24 hours and the temperature isn’t high enough to dry everything out quickly. You should make sure, before doing any burning, the city/township/county ordinance allows burning in your area–are there permits required, is it prohibited during certain months, does Smokey say “fire danger High today”? Metal barrels are useful for containment burning. Fire pits that are dug out and have stone or brick around the edge are also useful. Burning in an open area without any type of containment is tricky. Walking away from an uncontained burn pile is not a good idea. Have a shovel or hard-tinned rake ready and maintain the fire while it’s burning, dig a 1-2 foot barrier around the burn area (fire cannot travel through non-vegetated soil) and be sure all the embers are out before walking away–just like Smokey says.

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