Weather could prompt fire restrictons

July 13, 1997


Staff Writer

Parks and campgrounds in the Tri-State area are operating under normal rules, but the hot, dry weather could soon trigger restrictions on outdoor fires, officials said Sunday.

Normally campers and hikers can cook on grills in federal and state parks and build campfires in designated areas, according to officials who maintain the parks.

Patricia Manown, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the state has banned all outdoor fires during especially dry summers, when forest fires start more easily and spread quickly. She said restrictions are possible, although none have been issued so far.


"Things change daily with fire hazards," she said. "Sometimes it's so bad, we have to put fliers up on the kiosks of our state parks."

Officials said fires ignite easily when the ground is dry. Blair Williamson, a dispatcher at the C & O Canal National Historical Park, said a small brush fire started in the park last week. He said the park requires people to use a grill in the park or bring their own.

Two years ago, Williamson said, park officials banned even their use.

"It's really getting drier and drier. I would guess we might have to soon," Gordon Gay, an official at the park.

It certainly was not a problem last summer, Gay noted.

"It's just unbelievable. It was rain, rain last year and not this year," he said.

Gordon said brush fires can be started by out-of-control campfires, careless smokers and Mother Nature. A lightning storm in Montana three years ago started 165 fires in one night, he said.

It's not just parkland that is vulnerable to brush fires. Volunteer firefighters said they have been chasing field fires all summer.

Thomas Haubrick, a protection forester for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in McConnellsburg, said fires often start when people burn debris. Poorly maintained equipment, like lawn mowers and chain saws, can also cause fires, he said.

Haubrick said a storm last Wednesday caused three brush fires in Buchanan Forest District, which includes Fulton County and part of Franklin County. Fires started by lightening are among the most difficult, because they often strike in the middle of thick brush, he said

"Lightening fires tend to be in real inaccessible places," he said.

Haubrick and other officials gave several pieces of common-sense advice to avoid started brush fires.

- Keep gas-powered machinery in good working order. Haubrick said a spark can ignite a fire when the ground is dry.

- Don't throw cigarettes out the car window. "People have a tendency to pitch cigarettes out the window," Haubrick said. "If it lands in a field, it can smolder."

- Keep campfires inside fire rings. Haubrick said it is best to clear all flammable debris away from the area. Manown, of the Maryland DNR, said it is also important to closely monitor campfires and double-check to make sure the fire is out.

"Be very sure that the fire is extinguished. You have to stay with it and be sure the hot coals are out," she said.

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