You normally don’t think of grass fires in February or early March. Well, at least I don’t. In the middle of February, there is usually several inches of snow on the ground, and reaching 30 degrees can be a milestone!
But this winter, as most of you know, as been nothing but ordinary. Right now, there’s less than an inch of snow on the ground in most of the Chippewa Valley. With just a chance of a couple inches of snow on the horizon, it won’t be too long until any cover will be reduced to a few piles of snow. (If not already in your area!) Being that it’s my duty to always ”look past the stop sign,” the lack of snow concerns me. A little sunshine and wind will quickly dry the bare ground, increasing the fire danger in western Wisconsin. And, with the lower sun angle in the sky, a slow onset of spring opens a bigger window of opportunity for grass, brush, and other types of outdoor fires.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with DNR firefighters about fire danger. In my conversation with one of the firefighters, I learned something interesting: quelling dangerous fire conditions doesn’t solely depend on how much, or frequently, it rains or snows. Rather, it relies on the greening of the fuels: the grass, brush, trees, etc. Of course, precipitation helps green vegetation faster. But in the end, if the moisture is not locked into the plants, a good dose of sunshine and a little wind easily wicks away the moisture, turning the fire threat from low to high.
Preventing wildfires, for the most part, comes down to plain old common sense. Obviously, if you intend to burn, you need to obtain a burning permit from your local fire warden. The warden should be able to inform you if it’s safe to burn or not. It’s YOUR responsibility to monitor what’s known as “fire weather” conditions. If the threat is “high” or “extreme” for your county, you shouldn’t even think about lighting a match. Hot cigarette butts (please don’t litter!) and sparks from train wheels can also start fires. Obviously, the latter of these two can’t easily be prevented, but it just shows how something so small can turn into such a big problem.
So, this spring, think ahead! Hopefully, we’ll receive some snow within the next two to three weeks to lessen the threat. That way, when it’s ready, spring will set in and the green-up will begin! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more from Beyond the Forecast…
Click here for more information about wildfires and to see a map of the current fire danger in Wisconsin.
This post was written by Nick Grunseth on February 9, 2012