While April showers may bring May flowers, spring can also result in a more destructive blaze than the colors of early blooms. Spring, like fall, is considered “wildfire season” by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and citizens are warned to watch for a possible escaped blaze whenever outdoor burning is involved.
“We have two wildfire seasons,” said Greg Smith of the ODNR Division of Forestry. “There is one is the spring and one in the fall. Fire generally burns in the finer fuels, like grass and leaves. In the spring, it’s dangerous before the green-up occurs, before that moisture content is replenished in the finer fuels. Also, there are warmer temperatures and gustier winds, along with lower humidities. People are also out clearing out debris from the landscape and burning trash, and that’s when we get our fires. You also have when the leaves come down in the fall.”
According to Smith, wildfires spread easily in the spring because not all of the vegetation has swelled up with water to help naturally douse or slow the advance of a fire. Lots of green grass or leaves, for instance, means lots of water, which can help put a fire out before it starts. Before everything greens up, however, there is a heightened chance of trees, grass or other debris catching fire.
Smith said that outdoor burning regulations are designed to keep burning confined to the least risky hours of the day, which helps to prevent fires from spreading too easily.
"People need to know what the fire regulations are," said Smith. "There is no burning during the spring months of March, April and May from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. That reflects the time when the temperatures are higher, the humidity lower and you have more wind. In the evening you have moisture recovery in the grass and weeds, plus you have less wind and cooler temperatures. It's generally safer, but we encourage people to have a cleared area around their burning pile of at least 10 feet. Also, it's good to have a burning barrel, a 55-gallon drum, with a screen lid to keep embers from flying out. You need to watch it, and have a means of putting it out. You have to be careful, people may go inside and come back out to find that the fire has spread. If you burn large piles of debris, notify the fire department first."
Smith said that fines and jail time can be the result of a runaway fire, which can pale into comparison to restitution costs that could also be assessed.
"People can be cited in court," said Smith. "There can be five days of jail time and $200 in penalties. Also, they can ask for restitution for anything damaged in the fire. This is something that folks need to be careful about."