The smokey season: fall in Ohio is prime time for wildfires

The smokey season: fall in Ohio is prime time for wildfires

7 November 2008

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USA —  Smokey Bear says only you can prevent wildfires, even in southeastern Ohio.

Although most wildfires occur in the central and western parts of the state, Ohio is in the middle of its fall wildfire season, said Greg Smith, information and education administrator for the Ohio Division of Forestry.

Tuesday, a wildfire ignited west of Hocking College, near the Wayne National Forest.

The fire burned for three hours, covering 3.5 acres before the Nelsonville Division of Fire, the York Township Fire Department and the United States Forest Service contained the flames, said Aaron Smith, firefighter inspector for the Nelsonville Division of Fire.

Although the cause is still under investigation, no property was damaged and no injuries were reported, Aaron Smith said.

Most wildfires in Ohio are small, ranging anywhere from 1 to 6 acres; however, larger fires have occurred in the past, Greg Smith said.

Trash or burning debris that get out of control causes most wildfires in Ohio, Greg Smith said.

“Most people think they can burn their trash or leaf pile without any problem, but don’t realize these burns can get out of hand very quickly,” he said.

More than 2,000 fires occurred in the state between 2004 and January 2008, burning more than 10,000 acres.    

Athens County has had 59 wildfires since 2004, which burned a total of 220 acres, according to a report from the Ohio Department of Resources.

A majority of those fires occurred in the spring and fall, Ohio’s two fire seasons, according to the ODR.Wildfires are more likely to occur during the spring (March through May) when temperatures are warmer, and there’s more sun to dry out vegetation, and higher winds, which can spread the flames.During this fall fire season, when leaves and grasses have dried out, the Ohio Division of Forestry prohibits burning between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Because three state forests lie in Athens County, many signs are posted throughout the County to alert residents to any possible danger from wildfires.

These signs, which are jointly managed by district forest rangers and fire departments, range from low to extreme wildfire danger levels.

“These wildfire danger levels are based on weather conditions like humidity and wind when people need to be extra cautious about any outdoor burning,” Greg Smith said.

The Ohio Division of Forestry fights wildfires with fire.

“Prescribed burns help reduce the accumulation of fuels, like leaves and fallen trees, in a controlled manner,” Greg Smith said.

The burns occur only when weather conditions are favorable and several firefighters and forest rangers are on hand to control the blaze.

In addition to reducing vegetation, prescribed burns also help maintain the oak tree population. The oak species are in danger of being out competed by other tree species, like maple. However, oak trees can easily re-sprout after fires, so the prescribed burns help get rid of their competition, Greg Smith said.

“Oak supports more than 100 other species like squirrels, deer and wild turkeys, so it’s vital that they are not taken over by other trees,” he said.

The Wayne National Forest, which covers more than 240,000 acres across southeastern Ohio, also uses prescribed burns to reduce vegetation, said Gary Chancey, public affairs officer for the forest.

“The (Wayne National) Forest is so large and in three different areas of southeastern Ohio that we have to control the amount of fuel to reduce the occurrence of wildfires,” he said.

The most recent prescribed burn of Wayne occurred Tuesday when 400 acres were burned in Lawrence and Scioto counties, he said.

This is the first prescribed burn in more than a year, which helped clear fallen trees from the 2003 ice storm, according to a Wayne National Forest news release.

Another prescribed burn will occur sometime next week if the weather conditions permit it, Chancey said.

In the fiscal year 2008, 40 wildfires burning 60 acres occurred in Wayne National Forest.Residents in southeastern Ohio are encouraged to clear debris and vegetation from their home that may pose a fire risk. For residents who decide to burn their trash, Gary Smith said to use a 55-gallon drum with a screen lid on top to prevent any sparks spreading the fire.

Also, residents should not burn near woodpiles or propane tanks and be sure to have a means to extinguish the fire like a garden hose, he said.

“Most of this stuff is common sense, but fires do occur in Ohio and most are human-caused,” he said.

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