Wildfire occurrence is highest in the spring and fall when forest fuels are the driest and weather conditions — warm, dry, and windy — are most conducive for the spread of fire. On days when this threat is most likely, the department will issue a “red flag” status.
“The conditions that can make a pleasant spring day can unfortunately also help spread fires,” Maryland Forest Service State Fire Supervisor Chris Robertson said. “Our state and local firefighters are prepared for the season, and we ask the public’s help in preventing dangerous incidents that can threaten lives, property, and natural resources.”
Each year, the Maryland Forest Service responds to an average of 200 wildfires that burn 2,200 acres of forest, brush, and grasses.
The leading cause of wildfires in Maryland is burning of debris or any kind of outdoor burning, which accounts for 29% of fires in the state. Lightning is the only natural source of fire ignition, but accounts for less than 5% of fire starts.
The Maryland Forest Service recommends alternatives that are safer and more environmentally friendly than outdoor debris burning — including composting or mulching of yard waste, leaves and brush, and using larger brush or trees for firewood.
Outdoor burning should only be done on low fire danger days. State regulations apply to activities in woodland and within 200 feet of woodland, or activities adjacent to or within an area where flammable materials are located.
Open air burning is only allowed if:
- There is a natural or constructed fire break at least 10 feet wide completely around the material to be burned that is free of flammable materials;
- Adequate personnel and equipment are present to prevent the fire from escaping;
- At least one responsible person remains at the location of the fire until the last spark is out; and
- Burning occurs between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight unless the ground is covered with snow.
Residents should check with their county or municipal health department for local regulations and permit requirements before burning.
More information on open air burning is available on the DNR website.