News, Public Saftey

Spring brings greater risk of wildfire in Maryland

Spring wildfire season has begun in Maryland, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources urges residents across the state to prepare and help prevent wildfires.

Wildfire occurrence is highest in the spring and fall when forest fuels are the driest and weather conditions — warm, dry, and windy — are most conducive for the spread of fire.

The department works closely with the National Weather Service to notify citizens on days when this threat is most likely.

Each year, the Maryland Forest Service responds to an average of 122 wildland fires that burn 1,050 acres of forest, brush, and grasses.

The Department of Natural Resources also helps equip and train Maryland’s local volunteer fire companies to combat wildland fires through its Volunteer Fire Assistance Program.

The leading unintentional cause of wildfires in Maryland is burning of debris or any kind of outdoor burning, which on a 10-year average accounts for 34% of the fires to which the Maryland Forest Service responds.

The second-leading cause is arson, followed by several other man-made causes such as heat or sparks from equipment use. Lightning is the only natural source of fire ignition, but accounts for only 3% of fire starts.

The Maryland Forest Service recommends alternatives that are safer and more environmentally friendly than

outdoor debris burning — including composting or mulching of yard waste, leaves and brush, and using larger brush or trees for firewood.

Outdoor burning should only be done on low fire danger days. State regulations apply to activities in or within 200 feet of woodland, or activities adjacent to or within an area where flammable materials are located.

Open air burning is only allowed if:

—There is a natural or constructed fire break at least 10 feet wide completely around the material to be burned that is free of flammable materials;

—Adequate personnel and equipment are present to prevent the fire from escaping;

—At least one responsible person remains at the location of the fire until the last spark is out; and

—Burning occurs between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight unless the ground is covered with snow.

Residents should check with their county or municipal health department for local regulations and permit requirements before burning. More information on open air burning is available on the Department of Natural Resources website.