Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fires burning early

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 3/24/2014

Forty-eight grass fires broke out March 10-23 in Franklin County.

Thankfully, Alan Radcliffe said, none of those grass fires made their ways to homes, but a few outbuildings weren’t so fortunate.

Forty-eight grass fires broke out March 10-23 in Franklin County.

Thankfully, Alan Radcliffe said, none of those grass fires made their ways to homes, but a few outbuildings weren’t so fortunate.

The high number of grass fires for this time of year is unusual, Radcliffe, Franklin County emergency management director, said, and unless the county sees substantial precipitation, it could continue to see the number of fires climb.

“It’s that time of year,” Radcliffe said. “We’ve had several [grass fires]. I know we had one last week where Williamsburg had one that Pomona responded to for mutual aid that was a controlled burn, and it burned two outbuildings too.”

Taller, drier grass adds fuel to the fires, he said.

“People don’t realize there’s more dead grass there and more to burn, and the fire is burning a lot hotter,” he said. “Last year, for instance, I think there were a few grass fires, but this year, even if we have rain, the problem’s going to be the field getting muddy and we won’t be able to get grass trucks in there, but we’ll still have dry grasses that will burn.”

The cool season grass — the kind of grass found in lawns — hasn’t grown enough to help slow the spread of fires, Radcliffe said, leaving the tall, dead prairie grass to burn faster and hotter.

“There’s nothing to slow the fires down, and then we’ve got two- and three-foot-tall grass out there, and people think it’s just like in the past, like ‘I didn’t have any problem last year,’” he said, “but there’s a little more fuel there to burn and the dead grass being the fuel and it can get out of hand.”

Even those seasoned burners who have done controlled burns for years could experience a fire getting out of control this year, he said.

“I think I heard [Monday morning] two fire departments went out on controlled burns that got out of hand,” Radcliffe said. “They’re talking about a little rain Thursday, but this time of year, a day or two after rain and it’s dry again.”

If planning a controlled burn, Radcliffe said, the first thing to do is check the National Weather Service’s website for the fire weather forecast.

“There’s a place on [the website] for fire weather that will tell them during that day that they’re wanting to burn, what the weather conditions and winds are going to be,” he said. “[Sunday] for instance, the wind kept changing, and when it changes from one direction to the other is when these fires get out of control. People plan to burn one way, and if the wind changes they’re not prepared for that. Plan ahead and have equipment available to control that fire.”

Many of the fire departments are made up of volunteer firefighters, Radcliffe said, so being prepared for grass fires means knowing where everyone plans to be.

“Most of the fire departments make sure we have somebody around,” he said. “This time of year, the departments do that to try and have somebody available, but there’s still that chance Monday through Friday we’re shorthanded because people are working and then it takes more than one department to handle a fire that if we had a full crew, that department would have been able to handle it on their own.”

Radcliffe can’t predict how many more grass fires will hit Franklin County, he said, but the best hope is to be smart and prepare for them.

“Be very careful this spring because there’s going to be quite a few fires,” he said. “We just know that.”

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