With winter finally appearing to concede defeat to spring, the concerns of municipal officials are turning from snowy roads to flaming fields.
Brush fire season indeed has begun, with several having been reported to local fire departments during the last week, according to the Indiana County 911 log. One on Monday charred an estimated 2.5 acres of land in Blacklick Township.
And there undoubtedly will be more as the season progresses.
In fact, a National Fire Protection Association study shows that on average local fire departments are summoned to brush and grass fires more often in March, April and July than in other months.
But it remains to be seen how busy this season will be for Indiana County fire departments.
Indiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Stutzman said he assumes that it won’t be any busier than in previous seasons.
“With the on-again, off-again snow pack we had, I would not suspect that this year would be any worse than past years,” he said.
Mark Maser, an assistant managing forester with Gallitzin State Forest district, said this year’s risk largely depends on weather conditions, such as the amount of sunshine, wind levels and humidity levels. Bright, windy and dry conditions help brush fires ignite easier and spread faster, he said.
Over the last few springs, the weather has cooperated, he said, but past conditions don’t necessarily indicate the likelihood of future problems.
And more likely than not, firefighters will be called to a brush fire at some point.
According to the association’s study, fire departments, on average, responded to an estimated 334,200 brush, grass and forest fires each from 2007 to 2011. That, researchers said, accounted for nearly one-quarter of all fires reported to local departments.
Mazur said the largest percentage of fires are caused by human activity — the garbage fire that gets out of control, the lit cigarette flicked accidentally into a pile of dry leaves, or the piece of equipment that malfunctions and throws sparks.
He and other experts advise people to take care when burning rubbish or lighting a campfire and mind their surroundings and conditions before starting a fire.
They also advise people to tend to fires at all times and refrain from discarding lit cigarettes. And before stepping away from a fire, make sure a fire has been completely extinguished, they said.