According to forest service experts, environmental conditions have stacked up to be very similar to the 2011 fire season. (Remember the Wallow Fire and numerous smaller fires throughout the county?) We had abundant rainfall last monsoon season, causing rapid growth of grass and brush. Our winter has been very dry and mild, drying fuels. Fortunately, we received a little snow in February that will help minimize the risk for wildfires early in the season, but the grasses will soon dry out again and be susceptible to fire.
Most people think that wildfires and unattended campfires go hand-in-hand. Interestingly enough, while campfires are certainly one of the causes of wildfires, it’s not the cause that fire fighters worry about the most. The biggest problem is the stuff we never think about—power tools and vehicles emitting sparks. This year, especially, we need to maintain situational awareness to prevent wildland fires.
As the weather gets nicer, more and more people will be on the road. Our cars can easily start wildfires without us even knowing. Heat from catalytic converters or exhaust emissions could emit sparks, starting fires in roadside grass. If you’re traveling by car and need to pull over, look for designated areas, such as rest stops or turnouts. If you have to pull over in an emergency, please do not stop on grassy areas—stay on pavement or in dirt. If you’re hauling a trailer, make sure your safety chains are not dragging on the pavement, causing sparks. Blown tires can cause rims to run on the pavement emitting sparks, so please make sure your tires are in good shape. If your brakes are worn, not only do they have that annoying squeal, but brake shoe particles can also cause fires.
Use caution when you’re operating equipment that can throw sparks, such as grinders, plasma torches, chain saws, generators, welding torches, etc. Clear the area surrounding your work space of flammable debris—especially dead leaves, grasses and sawdust. Have a water source handy to put out any spot fires that may occur. If a spot fire does occur, do not leave the area until you are certain there are no traces of fire. So many of our fire calls in recent history have been from people who started a fire with their power tools, thought they put it out, and walked away, only to return to a blazing fire they couldn’t control.
When BBQing this season, make sure the BBQ is in a clear, open space and that flammable debris has been removed from the surrounding area. If you use charcoal briquettes, be especially vigilante, as many wildfires are caused by overturned grills, or discarded ashes. Be mindful of throwing out ashes. Make sure the ashes are cold before you dispose of them. If you do start a campfire, clear the debris away from the fire ring, and surround it with rocks. Keep water nearby. Never walk away from the campfire. Use water and dirt to kill the fire. The ground should be cold to the touch before it is safe to leave.
And, of course, there is the age old warning not to throw cigarettes out the window when you’re driving or on the ground while you’re working or playing outside.
It only takes a second of carelessness to cause a raging wildfire. You don’t want to be that careless person.