March has definitely come in like a lion. A roaring, howling, toppling trees lion and with it has brought in the spring fire season. With the wind and rain lately, a forest fire may be the furthest thing from everyone’s mind, but it is still a very real threat.
The spring fire season began on March 1st and runs through May 31st. Spring is the time when everyone is looking for things to green up and the dull winter colors to give way to lush green growth. Not exactly what you think of when you think about forest fires.
However, there are still plenty of leaves littering the ground and the March winds are ideal for quickly whipping a small brush pile fire into a full-blown inferno. Fire is not always a bad thing. Fire can, actually, be healthy for a forest and generate nutrient rich plants which wildlife thrive on.
Left un-checked fires can be devastating not only to forests, but to property owners as well. Recent statistics have shown that 99 percent of forest fires occurring in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee were caused by humans. This is a dramatic statistic when you think about the recent devastating fire in the Smokey Mountains and all of the large destructive fires that have occurred right here at home in recent years.
Both the fall and spring fire seasons are designed to help lessen the likelihood of fires escaping and charring acres and acres of land by limiting the number of factors that are known to help fires get out of control. The restricted hours for burning are from 5pm-7am, this is when the temperatures are generally cooler and winds are typically calmer.
Any outdoor fire should be attended at all times. It only takes a moment for a fire to get out of hand and the task of extinguishing the fire gets harder and harder as the fire gets bigger and bigger with each passing moment. Catching it early is the key to preventing many forest fires.
Any fire should also have a minimum 10-foot safety ring around the burn area that is devoid of any flammable items. This area is preferably raked to bare ground with no organic material that the fire could consume as fuel to escape and ignite a nearby hillside.
Another good idea is to have a water source and tools to extinguish the fire on hand at all times. All fires and even the embers must be extinguished before 7am and you can never take for granted that a fire is out just because there are no flames. Always rake through the coals or spray them down thoroughly before leaving the burn area.
Another important note is that only yard debris such as trees, brush and grass clippings are legal to be burnt. Burning household garbage is illegal regardless of the time of year and is a major cause of most forest fires.
Anyone convicted of causing a forest fire can be in for a serious dent into their savings account. Fines can range from $100 to over $1000 and they can also be liable for all the costs incurred for fighting the fire. One little fire can end up costing thousands of dollars when all the man hours and equipment costs are added in.
Willfully setting a forest fire is a felony which is punishable by fines and or imprisonment. With the technology they have these days’, investigators are able to track down and pin point the origin of the fire and even have specially trained dogs to help track the individuals responsible.
Forest fires are serious business and these professionals take pride in bringing arsonists to justice. If you ever have the unfortunate opportunity to witness a fire being started, West Virginia has an arson hotline set up to report suspicious fire activity, just dial 1-800-233-FIRE.
In the words of the immortal Smokey Bear, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Truer words have not been spoke when you realize that practically every forest fire in our part of the world is started by someone who should have known better.
So, whether it is fire season or not, be sure to be responsible with any outdoor burning and let’s keep those fires under control.
Roger Wolfe is an Outdoor Columnist for Civitas Media. For questions, comments or story ideas he can be contacted at [email protected]