RALEIGH — Anyone who has felt the warmth of a fire and enjoyed its friendly light knows that fire is not always a devastating blaze. Our ancestors considered fire, along with air, water and earth, a basic element. Long ago, they learned to use and control fire. It was, perhaps, their first tool.
Most people are careful with fire. They build fires in the right places and at the right time. They keep them the proper size and put them out before leaving them. But some people don’t, and the result can be catastrophic wildfire. The damage a wildfire can do is appalling, and with more people occupying the Wildland/Urban Interface, the problem may only get worse unless action is taken. The best way to keep wildfire damage from occurring is to prevent them from starting in the first place. The following practices can help.
Check local laws on burning. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours while others forbid it entirely, and make sure to obtain a burning permit. Contact your county ranger for the names and locations of the nearest burning permit agent, or use NCFS’s online burning permit application. Permits are free.
Check the weather; don’t burn on dry, windy days, and consider alternatives to burning. Some types of debris – such as leaves, grass and stubble – may be of more value if used for compost. It is always illegal to burn household trash or any other non-vegetative matter.
Burning Agriculture Residue and Forestland Litter
Be sure to be are fully prepared before burning off your field or garden spot. To control the fire, you will need a source of water, a bucket and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire. If possible, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Be sure to stay with your fire until it is out. Before doing any burning in a wooded area, contact your county ranger. The ranger will weigh all factors, explain them, and offer technical advice.
Using Lanterns, Stoves and Heaters
Cool all a lantern, stove or heater before refueling. Place it on the ground in a cleared area before filling. If fuel spills, move the appliance to a new clearing before lighting it. Recap and store flammable liquid containers in a safe place. Never light lanterns and stoves inside a tent, trailer or camper. If using a lantern or stove inside a tent or trailer, be sure to have adequate ventilation, and always read and follow instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Several types of equipment and vehicles are required to have spark arresters. Chain saws, portable generators, cross country vehicles and trail bikes – to name a few – require spark arresters if used in or near grass, brush or a wooded area. To make certain that a spark arrester is functioning properly, check with the dealer or contact your county ranger’s office.
When smoking outdoors, grind out the cigarette, cigar or pipe tobacco in the dirt. Never grind it on a stump or log. It is unsafe to smoke while walking or riding a horse or trail bike. Use an ashtray while in a car and never dump used cigarettes out the window.
After using burning charcoal briquettes, douse them thoroughly with water. Don’t just sprinkle a bit over the coals. When soaked; stir the coals and soak them again. Be sure they are out – cold! Then carefully feel the coals with bare hands to be sure they are extinguished.
Building and putting out campfires
Build campfires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves. Pull any extra wood away from the fire. Keep plenty of water handy and have a shovel for throwing dirt on the fire if it gets out of control. Start with dry twigs and small sticks. Then add larger sticks as the fire builds up. Put the largest pieces of wood on last, pointing them toward the center of the fire and gradually push them into the flames. Keep the campfire small. A good bed of coals or a small fire surrounded by rocks gives plenty of heat. Scrape away litter, duff and any burnable material within a 10-foot (3 meter) diameter circle around the fire. This will keep a small campfire from spreading.
After lighting a campfire, be sure the match is out. Hold it until it is cold and then break it so you can feel the charred portion before discarding. Never leave a campfire unattended. Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread. After use, drown the fire with water. Make sure all embers, coals and sticks are wet. Move rocks – there may be more burning embers underneath. Stir the remains, add more water, and stir again. Be sure all burned material has been extinguished and cooled. If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough soil or sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cooled then feel all materials with bare hands. Make sure that no roots are burning and do not bury coals – they can smolder and ignite.
Monitor for local and current state burn bans that may restrict outdoor burning. Contact your fire department or county ranger to make sure you are not violating any open burning regulations.
Since people cause most wildfires, we all have a part in preventing them. We can be more careful ourselves, and whoever we are and wherever we are, we can influence others to use more care with fires. Remember, a little extra care takes only a few minutes of time, and it could prevent a wildfire.