Local firefighters see rise in grass fires amid dry season, advise caution
After battling several grass fires recently, local firefighters are urging the public to use caution during what they predict will be a very busy fire season.
Lone Grove Fire Chief Stacey Phelps said his department responded to three separate grass fires in one day this week. “We were fighting about 30-foot flames yesterday,” Phelps said, referring to a grassfire that ignited off of Cardinal Road on Wednesday.
Firefighters in Love County have been dealing with similar conditions. Criner Hills Fire Chief Charles Campbell said he had firefighters dispatched to at least two grass fires this week.
“A lot of times we will be working on one grass fire and then we’ll have another one break out somewhere else,” Campbell said. “Sometimes we got to split our trucks and go in two or three different directions with these fires.”
Phelps said the humidity levels have been very low, and when combined with dry grass and little precipitation, the conditions make for high fire danger. One fire the Lone Grove department responded to on Wednesday was caused by a cigarette being thrown in the grass.
“If cigarettes are setting fires you know it’s really dry,” Phelps said. “It has to be really, really dry, but that’s what we’re at right now.”
The grassfire season typically begins in the winter months and lasts into April or May, and Phelps said many firefighters are expecting the season to be worse this year. “Grass fires are real dangerous at this time of year,” Campbell said. “All of the grass is dry and it’s got a lot of vegetation out there that will burn.”
One of the main causes of most grass fires is controlled burns getting out of hand. “A lot of people are burning the brush piles and leaves in their yards and it will get away from them,” Campbell said.
Those looking to burn leaves or brush piles should make sure they check the weather conditions for the next few days, and have a reliable water supply on hand, Phelps said. Big brush piles can burn for up to two or three days and a change in the wind can spread fire fast.
With the grass currently being so dry, individuals need to be aware that precipitation or low winds don’t necessarily make burning safe. “Just because the wind isn’t blowing today doesn’t mean that it’s not going to blow tomorrow and that brush pile will still be burning tomorrow,” Phelps said.
Dead grass doesn’t hold moisture and will still burn, even if the ground is wet. “So we can get rain on Sunday and we’ll be fighting grassfires on Tuesday,” Phelps said. “That’s something that I hope everybody keeps in mind.”
Other common causes include cigarettes being thrown in the grass and people leaving fires like that of a charcoal grill unattended. Campbell said sparks from welding on fences or other appliances can also result in grass fires.
“Also, when you empty out your fireplaces and stuff, be careful where you put your ashes,” Phelps said. “They’ll dump their ashes out and then the wind picks up and blows the embers out into the pasture, and then we’ve got a grass fire.”
On top of the increased fire danger, the current conditions can make it more difficult for firefighters to put out fires. Phelps said it takes a large supply of water and requires a great deal of teamwork to put out a grass fire.
“You have to move so slow that you have to have lots of people there to contain it because the fires moving fast but you can’t move that fast,” Phelps said. “If you do, it will just flare up behind you.”
The more fires that break out in one evening, the more strain that is put on fire engines and volunteer departments that require donations for a large portion of upkeep and maintenance.
“Just be careful out there,” Campbell said. “Be careful what you’re burning and stay with it — don’t just walk off when you’ve got something burning like a brush pile or trash, or something of that nature.”