Only you can prevent forest fires: Wildfire season approaches

by By Cristin Parker

It may not seem like it now, with all the recent rain, but state and local fire officials want to remind citizens wildfire season isn’t that far away.

Earlier this month, Smokey Bear and officials with the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) visited and spotlighted Cherokee County during the Service’s celebration of Smokey’s 75th birthday.

“Hello Cherokee County,” Smokey Bear posted on the TFS’s Facebook page on Feb. 12. “This county is another with a high frequency of fires. Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 500 fires here since 2004 and the majority were caused by debris burning. But, one of the largest fires was the Dotson Fire in 2011 that was caused by arson.”

The Dotson Fire occurred September 2011 on CR 2325 three miles west of Alto and destroyed 1,900 acres of timber. More recently, the fire that broke out in August 2018, along U.S. Highway 69 north of Alto, led to the evacuation of about 18 county resident and consumed an estimated 23 acres of a pine tree plantation.

According to the TFS’s website, “People and their activities cause more than 90 percent of all wildfires in Texas. The largest number of human-caused wildfires is a result of careless debris burning. Other causes of wildfires include sparks from welding and grinding equipment, carelessly discarded smoking materials, vehicles’ exhaust systems and arson.”

There are ways citizens can get their burning done and minimize the hazards therein. TFS recommends these tips for safer debris burning:

• Check for local bans on outdoor burning and keep informed of wildfire danger levels.

• Avoid burning trash, leaves and brush on dry, windy days. Check to see if weather changes are expected. Postpone outdoor burning if shifts in wind direction, high winds or wind gusts are in the forecast.

• Before doing any burning, establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil at least five feet wide around any burn barrels and even wider around brush piles and other piled debris to be burned. The larger the debris pile, the wider the control line needed to ensure burning materials won’t be blown or roll off the pile into vegetation outside the line.

• Burn household trash only in a burn barrel or other trash container equipped with a screen or metal grid to keep burning material contained.

• Never attempt to burn aerosol cans; heated cans will explode. Flying material may cause injuries and the explosion may scatter burning material into nearby vegetation and cause a wildfire.

• Stay with outdoor fires until they are completely out.

• Keep water and hand tools ready in case your fire should attempt to spread.

• If you suspect arson activity, be alert to vehicles and people that don’t belong in your neighborhood. You can also talk to your neighbors because they may have seen the same suspicious people. Finally, report suspicious activity to your local law enforcement,

Smokey Bear has been the face of wildfire prevention for 70 years. The Smokey Bear campaign is the longest running public service advertising campaign in United States history. Wildfire prevention remains one of the most critical issues affecting our country, and Smokey’s message, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” is as relevant today as it was in 1944.