Cooler weather and a warm fire at a campsite can make for a cozy evening. But due to dry conditions, it’s important to take steps to make sure your campfire doesn’t become a wildfire.
Likewise, many enjoy setting off fireworks during the holiday season. But fireworks can become serious fire hazards if set off at the wrong place and time. With the New Year on the horizon – and the tradition of fireworks which some use to celebrate – there is an added hazard that can cause fires to erupt.
As of Dec. 11, a total of 75 counties had enacted outdoor burn bans. The Texas A&M Forest Service warned of significant fire potential in West Texas in an update, and also highlighted rainfall deficits that continue to increase throughout much of the state. Dry grass provides fuel for potential fires.
The forest service noted that a lack of rainfall over the last two months has dried plant life throughout parts of Texas, greatly increasing the likelihood of wildfires.
Outdoor activities typically decrease in the winter, but that’s not always the case in Texas. Camping is popular year-round with many outdoor enthusiasts, and especially on cold nights, campers often want to huddle around a fire to stay warm. Keeping a constant watch on the fire can help prevent disaster.
Weather conditions play a strong role in the likelihood of fires breaking out or spreading, but there are several things that can be done to reduce the risk.
The American Red Cross offers these suggestions to decrease the odds of a wildfire erupting:
- Only start a campfire or bonfire in an appropriate fire pit, cleared of all vegetation and ringed by stones.
- Never leave a fire unattended, including overnight.
- Always make sure your fire is completely doused with water and smothered with dirt before you leave a campsite.
- Don’t start a fire on a windy day. Sparks can quickly ignite a wildfire.
While Texas experienced one of its worst years for wildfires in 2011 when areas at Bastrop and Possum Kingdom Lake suffered heavy damage, California is currently in the midst of its worst wildfire season. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that more than 1 million acres of land have been scorched, causing more than $3 billion worth of damage, killing 44 people and forcing thousands to evacuate areas that have been devastated or threatened.
One spark combined with dry conditions can lead to disaster, but state officials certainly hope to avoid the type of fires that have plagued California.
“It’s a real concern for the state,” said Tom Spencer, head of the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Predictive Services Department. “We’ve got a lot of grass fuel loading from west of Fort Worth to the Possum Kingdom Lake area, north into Clay and Montague counties and west all the way to the Panhandle.”
Although wet weather may help improve conditions for a limited time in parts of the state, the overall situation calls for caution, the forest service notes.
For those planning to use fireworks to celebrate the holidays, the forest service has these warnings:
- Before celebrating, always check with local government officials or police to see whether fireworks or outdoor burning are allowed in your area, and be sure to follow local laws and regulations.
- Before using fireworks, be sure to read and follow directions and warnings on the label.
- Only use fireworks under adult supervision and in safe areas away from buildings, dry grass and brush.
- Keep a water hose, bucket of water and wet towels nearby in case of an emergency.
- Dispose of used fireworks in a bucket of water.
- Do not ignite fireworks in a container.
The U.S. Forest Service notes that more than 75,000 wildfires are reported each year, and about 90 percent of these are caused by people.
“Arson fires are set deliberately, but people cause fires in many ways: unattended campfires, fireworks, sparks from equipment or vehicles without working spark arrestors, or burning leaves and debris,” the U.S. forest service noted. “Wildfires started by cigarettes tossed from cars or by children playing with matches can be deadly, too. It’s everyone’s job to prevent human-caused wildfires.”
For more information on wildfire prevention, visit https://smokeybear.com/en/prevention-how-tos.