Over the weekend, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont saw an insurgence of brush fires due to the dry and windy weather conditions. Without much snow accumulation this winter, the snow pack that typically still blankets the area is gone, exacerbating the situation. While springtime brush fires are normal, under these conditions fires not only ignite more easily, but spread rapidly, and can be hard for firefighters to gain control over. This poses a significant risk not only to the land, but also residences.
Many parts of northern New England were issued Red Flag Warnings, or Fire Weather Warnings, on Friday, meaning that there is high fire danger, with an increased probability of a quickly spreading vegetation fire in the area within 24 hours. With the abundance of dry materials such as dead grass, leaves, and brush covering the ground, any increase in fire weather conditions needs to be taken very seriously. Firefighters battled flames all over the three states through Sunday. One in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, burned as much as 60 acres and came within 100 feet of nearby condominiums before it was finally extinguished.
While they cannot be completely prevented, human activity is the primary cause of brush fires and there are ways to decrease the risk.
- Especially important is taking safety precautions when burning yard waste such as leaves and tree trimmings. Always check with local municipalities and acquire a permit, as burning is only allowed when fire conditions are low. Additionally, burn yard waste small batches, which are much easier to control.
- Every year brush fires are started inadvertently by people disposing of cigarettes. By throwing them on the ground or out of a car window they can easily be a source of ignition. It is critical during dry weather that they are properly put out and disposed of.
- Running engines, whether from a vehicle, lawn mower, ATV, or other mechanical device, can cause sparks and burning bits of debris. Keeping them well maintained and not idling unnecessarily can help reduce this risk.
- While it may still be a bit chilly for most recreational camping, campfires remain one of the top causes of brush fires. Never leave a fire unattended and always create an enclosure by surrounding them with rocks. To ensure that a campfire is completely extinguished prior to leaving a campsite, sufficiently douse with water and then cover with dirt to prevent smoldering embers from accidentally igniting nearby vegetation.
Without the help of smoke detectors to notify someone that there is cause for concern outside, it is often difficult for first responders to know when a brush fire has started. Often spreading rapidly, the key to limiting their damage is by addressing them as quickly as possible. If you ever see smoke or an unattended fire, no matter how small, keep in mind that notifying someone immediately could be what prevents a major disaster.