USA — Landowners are advised to take caution when burning brush or grasses in low lying areas, due to a high incident of peat fires across the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports.
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed plant material, often found in wetlands or areas that had been wetlands at one time. Peat soil generally absorbs moisture, but unusually dry conditions across the region have created the potential for peat soils to burn this winter. Minnesota has more than 6 million acres of peat, the highest total acreage in the contiguous United States.
Peat fires are a real threat this year, according to Tom Romaine, a fire supervisor for the DNR. As landowners burn brush piles, grass or other vegetation, the heat can be conducted from the surface fire into the dry peat soil and cause it to ignite.
Romaine said that peat fires can be extremely difficult to battle because the fire smolders beneath the ground as a glowing combustion rather than as an open flame. Pumping water on a peat fire is often ineffective. Heavy equipment may be needed to alternately work and pack the soil, exposing hot pockets and then sealing them off from surface oxygen. A peat fire can take weeks or months to extinguish, and costs to fight the fire can be substantial.
Peat fires can pose health hazards since they burn at a lower temperature and create more smoke than other types of fires. The heavy, dense smoke combined with airborne peat particles can cause respiratory problems in people and livestock. Grains and livestock feeds can become tainted. Peat smoke will hang like fog in low areas, creating low visibility and hazardous conditions for motorists.
If a peat fire is discovered, the local fire department should be contacted immediately. Quick action can significantly limit the negative impact a peat fire can have.
The best defense against a peat fire is prevention, Romaine said. People should be careful burning in low areas this winter.