As spring begins in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources is urging residents across the state to prepare for the heightened risk of wildfires. Spring and fall are the times when forest fuels are at their driest, and weather conditions are most conducive to the spread of fire. Therefore, the department works closely with the National Weather Service to notify citizens on days when this threat is most likely.
According to the Maryland Forest Service, the state responds to an average of 122 wildland fires each year, which burn 1,050 acres of forest, brush, and grasses. To combat these fires, the department has equipped and trained Maryland’s local volunteer fire companies through its Volunteer Fire Assistance Program.
The leading unintentional cause of wildfires in Maryland is burning of debris or any kind of outdoor burning, which accounts for 34% of the fires to which the Maryland Forest Service responds. Arson is the second-leading cause, followed by several other man-made causes such as heat or sparks from equipment use. Lightning is the only natural source of fire ignition, but it only accounts for 3% of fire starts.
The Maryland Forest Service recommends safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives than outdoor debris burning. These include composting or mulching of yard waste, leaves, and brush, and using larger brush or trees for firewood.
The state has regulations that apply to activities in or 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 Department of Natural Resources website.
In addition to being a threat to human safety and property, wildfires also significantly impact the environment. They can destroy habitats, threaten wildlife, and cause long-term damage to forests and other natural resources.
Therefore, it is crucial for Maryland residents to take the necessary steps to prevent wildfires and to be prepared in case one occurs. By following the Maryland Forest Service’s recommendations and regulations, residents can help protect themselves, their communities, and the state’s natural resources.