Discarded cigarettes spark brush fires

Discarded cigarettes spark brush fires

20 February 2009

published by www.dailyadvance.com

USA — Under current weather conditions a cigarette tossed out the window of a car or truck can ignite a fire in roadside brush, area fire officials say.

That’s what Leslie Metzger says fire officials told her caused the brush fire Monday in the yard of a mobile home she owns at 126 Creek Road.

Metzger said the mobile home’s tenant returned from work to find the yard on fire and first tried to fight the fire himself before calling the fire department.

Danny Ellinwood, assistant fire marshal for Pasquotank County, said Friday that while a cigarette tossed out of a car window was a logical explanation for the Creek Road fire, he couldn’t prove it was the cause since no cigarette butt was found at the scene.

“Can we say a cigarette caused that? We can’t,” Ellinwood said.

There’s not one confirmed case recently of a fire in Pasquotank County that was caused by a discarded cigarette, he said.

But in a number of instances, Ellinwood said, a cigarette was the “only likely cause” of a blaze.

He pointed out that in the case of the Creek Road fire, for instance, there was no evidence the fire was set intentionally and nothing that would be an obvious cause of ignition — such as a downed electrical line — was discovered at the site.

Conditions have been favorable for quick-catching brush fires recently with dry air, high winds and dry vegetation, Ellinwood said.

A number of brush fires in Pasquotank last week were caused by permitted burning that got out of control, he said.

One brush fire known to have been caused by a discarded cigarette was last week’s blaze at Lamb’s Marina in Camden, he said.

Pasquotank County Ranger Robb Davis of the N.C. Forest Service said at least one fire in Pasquotank County last week probably was caused by a cigarette.

Davis said high winds and low relative humidity had increased the likelihood of brush fires during the past couple of weeks,

“We’ve been pretty busy here lately,” Davis said.

Fortunately, none of the fires has gotten out of control, he said.

“We’ve been able to put them out successfully with the help of our volunteer fire departments,” Davis said.

The ranger noted volunteer fire departments in Pasquotank and surrounding counties play a key role in controlling brush fires.

“We’re coming into the beginnings of fire season,” David said.

None of the brush in Pasquotank County in recent weeks has been set intentionally, he said.

The relative humidity must be very low — in the teens — for a cigarette ember to cause a fire, he said.

But such have been the conditions recently in this area.

The N.C. Forest Service official Web site reported Friday that relative humidity levels for most of this area would be between 15 and 25 percent this weekend, with high-gusting winds off and on.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported this week that drought conditions in the state have expanded during the past two weeks. Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Perquimans and Chowan counties all are listed under the heading of “moderate drought” on the DENR drought map.

The map shows that a large swath of the coastal plain is now experiencing moderate drought, according to a DENR press release.

“Water table levels continue to be below normal in this area together with minimum precipitation,” Woody Yonts, chairman of the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council, said in the DENR press release.

Davis said that although no burning ban had been issued so far this year, a ban is possible as the fire season progresses. Residents should make sure no burning ban is in effect before starting a fire, even if they have obtained a burning permit, he said.

If a burning ban is in effect it will be posted at www.dfr.state.nc.us, according to Davis.

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