Field fires still pose a threat
By Fran Odyniec
Don’t let the recent but brief rainfalls fool you.
Those rainfalls can be misleading. According to Mike Kurz, a meteorologist at the Wilmington Bureau of the National Weather Service, the rainfall has been spotty.
“There has not been a good soaking rain at all,” Kurz said. “Some areas get enough to get by; some are bone dry.”
His grim forecast: Through September the drought will broaden over the Ohio Valley.
State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers has stated that the warning of extreme fire danger his office issued in July still remains in force.
“Conditions continue to be very dry, even after the rainfall in many parts of the state,” stated Flowers. “Ohioans should not let their guard down. A spark, on dry grass, fanned by winds, can quickly get out of hand and put lives and property at risk.”
Area fire chiefs as well continue to have their departments on alert.
“Careless actions cause most fires in rural and municipal areas,” offered Todd Eades, fire chief at the City of London Fire Department.
“People don’t think what a spark can do to a dry field that is like a tinder box,” added Brian Bennington, fire chief at Central Townships Joint Fire District. “One spark can have a catastrophic effect.”
What could come as a surprise to some people is that should a fire get out of control the person responsible for starting the fire could find himself in some serious territory.
“If there is any potential for loss of life, that person could be criminally charged,” Bennington continued. “That’s why it is so important to have respect for a ban on burning.”
Under Ohio Administrative Code 3745.19 regarding outdoor burning, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) must be notified for many types of open burns in the state.
“Just calling a department letting us know that you’re going to do an open burn, does not give you permission to burn,” Bennington said.
The same goes for calling the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
“We can’t give permission for an open burn,” said Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin. “But if you have permission, contact us to let us know where your location is.”
However, road patrols keep an eye out for smoke looking for open burns.
“We’ll stop and talk to the people involved attempting to reinforce and educate them about the potential risk,” said Sabin. “Most understand what the combination of weather and an open burn can do.”
The Ohio EPA has certain restrictions in place regarding burns:
• Fires must be more than 1,000 feet from a neighbor’s inhabited building
• No burning when an air pollution alert, warning, or emergency is in effect
• No waste generated off the premises may be burned.
• No burning within a village or city limits or restricted areas
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry also has restrictions governed by Ohio Revised Code 1503.18:
• Outdoor open burning is prohibited statewide in unincorporated areas during the months of March, April, May, October, and November between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
• This ban includes burning of yard waste, trash, and debris even if they are deposited in a proper burn barrel.
Shane Cartmill, of the state fire marshal’s communications office, pointed out a popular misconception about field fires.
“People seem to think that ‘I’m not a farmer, it doesn’t affect me,’” Cartmill said. “A careless flip of a cigarette out the window can cause a field fire. And machinery, even a lawn mower, can spark a fire. It’s not just a farm field where this can happen.”
While a fire gone out of control threatens or consumes acreage and/or structures, it also takes a toll on the firefighters battling the blaze.
“It places a high degree of stress on our guys,” said Bennington.
To fight a field fire, departments send out their grass fighter units along with tankers. The grass fighters go right to the front line of the fire while the tankers stage a safe distance away for refills. Not only do they fight the fire, but they also must contend with changes in wind direction that can turn the fire around unexpectedly.
“The risk is tremendous,” said Eades, “especially with the weather we’ve been having. Firefighters are encapsulated in gear to protect them from heat but their body temperature can rise as much as 30 to 40 degrees fighting a fire.”
“Our guys are sweating out fluids and wearing down their electrolytes,” added Bennington. “So, we are also fighting dehydration.”
The Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office advises the following when holding backyard cookouts or gatherings at a park or farm field:
• Do not burn for any reason except cooking, grilling or recreational fires
• Never use a grill under a tent, a canopy or in a garage
• Keep recreational fires contained in a designated fire pit, outdoor fireplace or confined to seasoned hardwood in an area three feet or less in diameter and two feet less in height
• Supervise children around outdoor grills; establish a three-foot safety zone around the grill to keep both children and pets at a distance
• Dispose of hot coals properly; douse all of them, not just the red ones, with plenty of water and stir them to ensure that the fires i out. Never place them in a plastic, paper, or wooden container.
For information on local burn restrictions, call the City of London Fire Department at (740) 852-4297; the Central Townships Joint Fire District at (740) 852-3393; the Jefferson Township Fire Department at (614) 879-8251; Tri-County Joint Fire District at (740) 869-2643; Pleasant Valley Joint Fire District at (614) 873-4067. For advice on Ohio fire laws, call the Ohio EPA at (614) 644-2270 or the Ohio DNR Division of Forestry at 1-877-247-8733.