With recent dry conditions and high winds, it is important to keep fire safety in mind this year. Brush and grass fires can sometimes start from natural causes, like lightning. However, these types of fires can often be prevented by following a few simple safety rules.
“While some areas of the state have been hit with heavy rain events over the past couple of months, almost all of them have missed Wright County,” said Seth Hansen, Wright County Emergency Management Director. “Right now, we’re about three inches below average for rainfall. The biggest issue we’ve seen has been recreational fires that don’t burn the right materials. They’re burning leaves or improper materials that set off sparks. Once it hits and the wind takes it, fires can start pretty fast and spread quickly.”
Hansen noted that in the last two weeks there has been a fire in the median along I-94 between Clearwater and Hasty, likely started by a cigarette butt thrown from a vehicle, and a fire in Montissippi Park likely started by an unattended fire that burned approximately five acres of land.
He added that there are several precautions that should be taken because, until Wright County gets a significant rainfall, the fire risk heading into the 4th of July weekend will only get more pronounced.
• Place cigarette butts in metal containers. Do not throw them on the ground or into vegetation.
• Leave fireworks to the professionals. Do not use illegal consumer fireworks.
• Follow the recommendations at www.firewise.org to make your home and landscaping more resistant to fire, specifically “How to Have a Firewise Home.”
• Reduce the risk from sparks by being sure nothing is dragging from your vehicle keeping tires properly inflated and being careful when using lawn mowers or other equipment.
• Be aware of, and comply with, any local ordinances or permit requirements pertaining to outdoor or open air burning including: campfires, brush fires, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces
• Closely attend all outdoor fires. Be sure to put out the fire completely before leaving.
• Avoid burning on windy, dry days. When conditions are windy or dry, it is too easy for open burning to spread out of control.
• Do not use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids to burn brush, trash, or other waste.
A grass fire differs from other fires by its extensive size, the speed at which it can spread out from its original source, its potential to change direction unexpectedly and its ability to jump gaps such as roads, rivers and fire breaks. To prevent dangerous grass fires, assess your property to determine its risk. Tall trees, wild grass, shrubs, and any other combustible materials can all contribute to spreading a fire. During drought or extended lengths of dry weather, this vegetation can become perfect fuel for a fire driven by strong winds. Some simple planning will greatly reduce the threat to your home, property and community.
• Do not attempt a controlled burn on your land without contacting the local fire department to check on conditions and precautions.
• Avoid burning grass near plastic culverts as they are flammable.
• Do not throw cigarette or cigar butts on the ground or out of a vehicle. Dispose of them properly and make sure they are completely extinguished.
• Keep a 30 foot "safety zone" surrounding your home. This area should be clear of brush, with grass cut short. Store firewood and other combustible materials at least 30 feet away from any buildings. For homes that sit on a steep slope, the safety zone should be increased accordingly.
• Keep your yard healthy, cut, and watered. It is a natural firebreak.
• Clean up dead leaves and twigs from your yard, roof and gutters. Cut tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground and remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
• Do not park cars, trucks or recreational vehicles on dry grass or shrubs. Exhaust systems on vehicles can reach temperatures of more than 500°C; it only takes about 200°C to start a grass fire in the summer.
• Use an approved spark arrester on all internal combustion engine power equipment. This special muffler helps ensure that sparks generated by off road vehicles, chainsaws, and other equipment, don’t start grass fires.
• Parents should emphasize to their children the dangers of playing with fire. Children, who have no idea how quickly flames can grow and spread, start many grass fires. For great facts and tips for educating children please visit www.firefacts.org
• Homeowners who barbeque should maintain a 10-foot area free of brush and shrubbery around grills and propane tanks. Never leave a grill unattended.
• Keep a shovel, bucket of water, fire extinguisher or garden hose on hand at any time while burning outside.
• If conducting a controlled burn, have a water hose close by and always check with your local municipality to ensure there is not a fire ban in effect.
“We just want people to be aware of the dangers that are out there with the dry conditions we have,” Hansen said. “We hope that people will understand those dangers and take the little extra precautions to make sure the fires they have are out completely before they leave them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but that effort can mean a lot if it prevents a fire getting out of control and spreading.”