Grass fire season arrives

Grass fire season arrives

21 November 2008

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USA — Summer and fall rains have produced an abundance of vegetation, fuel for grass fires that could threaten Edmond-area homes.

In recent weeks, numerous structure fires and grass fires have been reported by the Edmond Fire Department, and others have been reported by the Deer Creek Fire Department and the Oak Cliff Fire Department.

Tim Wheeler, Edmond’s fire prevention chief, said after rains, homeowners sometimes think the ground is safely saturated when it actually is not. Sun, low humidity and high winds tend to quickly dry out wet vegetation and increase the threat for grass fires, Wheeler said.

“We’ll see a grass fire that will run across the top of open land, but we’re not able to get to it because the soil is so wet,” Wheeler said.

Deer Creek Fire Department Assistant Chief Eric Harlow said abundant moisture from the past two years has helped reduce the number of grass fires this fall.

Harlow said he is worried that rapid vegetation growth allows it to grow tall and thick. When it dries out, firefighters will be faced with a large amount of dry, thick heavy vegetation to burn, he said.

“It’s kind of a ‘Catch 22’ situation,” Harlow said. “The moisture helps you in one way, but has the potential to hurt you in the long run.”

Harlow said grass fires can be caused by a variety of things — controlled burning that gets out of control due to carelessness or changing weather conditions, lightning, discarded cigarettes, electrical lines arcing or man-made fires. Deer Creek has not noticed a sharp change in any of these types in recent years, he said.

Wheeler said home owners can take certain steps to reduce the risk to their home during the “fire season.”

Tips include keeping any type of combustibles away from the outside of the house. Combustibles does not mean a can of gasoline or a box of dynamite, Wheeler said. Combustibles include fire wood, trash or leaves — anything that can burn and take fire from the grass up the side of a house to the roof.

“As long as they keep all the combustibles back away from the house, most generally if they keep the vegetation cut down low, the fire will burn right up to it and move right on by,” Wheeler said.

Harlow said it’s a good idea to keep trees trimmed and undergrowth cleared out.

Homeowners need to remember that when they move to the country, especially in large housing additions, the threat of a grass or wildland fire affecting their property goes up drastically compared to living in a more city type of setting, Harlow said.

This is due to the fact that large housing additions are carved out of the natural wildland fire habitat and once they are built, they are usually surrounded by tall grass, heavy woods and other combustible materials, he said.

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