Fire officials warn against burning
Paul Koons, an assistant fire chief for the Indiana Fire Association, Thursday asked everyone to “give area firefighters a break” and refrain from starting outdoor fires until Indiana County receives significant rain and until the landscape’s vegetation turns green.
Koons issued the plea while IFA firefighters and volunteers of the Aultman and Homer City fire departments battled a grass and brush fire along Route 286 in Center Township. It was one of seven brush fires Indiana County firefighters responded to Thursday alone, according to Indiana County’s Emergency Management Agency.
Mel Benamati, president of the Indiana County Fire Chiefs Association, echoed Koons’ concerns. Benamati said he understands property owners are cleaning up lawns and making piles of limbs and other debris from the winter. But he asked people not to burn brush or start other outdoor fires until the weather is damp.
“Use common sense,” he said. “Let’s be safe about it.”
And he reminded county residents that someone who starts an outdoor fire that spreads out of control can be held responsible for the costs of fighting the fire. That can be especially expensive if a state district forester and special equipment has to be brought in to extinguish the wildfire, he said.
Warm temperatures, low humidity and breezes Thursday allowed outdoor fires to easily spread out of control.
Those conditions began to develop last month as snow melted and Gov. Tom Corbett proclaimed March 16-22 as Wildfire Prevention Week in Pennsylvania. The governor noted that the drying spring winds and warming temperatures quickly combine to increase fire dangers across privately owned property and Pennsylvania’s forests and brush lands.
“Most of the more than 630 reported fires last year are linked to people. People cause 98 percent of wildfires,” Corbett said. “A mere spark by a careless person can touch off a devastating forest blaze during dry periods when conditions enable wildfires to spread quickly.
“Common sense can limit the threat of wildfires and can aid the brave men and women who serve as volunteer forest firefighters of our community volunteer fire companies and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said.
DCNR statistics show nearly 85 percent of Pennsylvania’s wildfires occur in March, April and May before the greening of state woodlands and brushy areas.
Named for rapid spread through dormant, dry vegetation under windy conditions, wildfires annually scorch nearly 7,000 acres of state and private woodlands, according to DCNR.