Fire Marshal offers tips to prevent outdoor and brush fires

– State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “Firefighters have been busy battling brush fires across the Commonwealth over the last few days. The warmer weather and environment on the ground create the conditions and fuel for brush fires.” Days of higher temperatures, low humidity, and high winds easily combined with the fuel left bare since the snow has melted create the perfect conditions for brush fires.

Use Caution Outdoors

“Whether you are burning brush, cooking on the barbecue, or riding ATVs in the woods, it is important to keep fire safety in mind,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “A cigarette thrown out the car window, snuffed out in a dry potted plant, mulch bed, or on the ground can easily start a fire,” he added.

Historically More Brush Fires in April

Historically there are more brush fires in April than any other month. Over a ten-year average, there are 36% more brush fires in April than May, the next busiest month for brush fires. Many of the April brush fires are started by open burning that has gotten out of control. Open burning season, in communities where it is allowed, ends on May 1. A permit is required from the local fire warden, usually the local fire chief. Burning can only take place when both air quality and fire conditions are acceptable and people may rush to finish up before the season ends, and to burn too much at once. “Weather conditions change rapidly, so watch the wind and be prepared to extinguish your brush pile. A sudden wind change is how most open burning fires get out of control,” said Ostroskey.

Don’t Delay; Call for Help

If the fire should get out of control, call the fire department immediately. “Winds can fan the flames and fire can spread faster than a person can run,” said Ostroskey. “Use the utmost caution to prevent injury and damage to property. We’ve already had several instances of open burning spreading to structures,” he added. In 2017, 4,009 and brush fires were reported to the Mass. Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS) causing 15 firefighter injuries and five civilian injuries. Most people were injured trying to fight the fire first before calling 9-1-1.

On April 15, 2017, the Spencer Fire Department fought two large brush fires. One that went to 5-alarms was a permitted brush fire that got out of control. The other was started by kids.

How to Safely Burn Brush

  • Between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. with a permit from the fire warden (usually the fire chief).
  • When air is circulating well but without high winds, and the Daily Air Quality Forecast – MassAir Online (also available at the MassDEP Open Burning Hotline at 617-556-1021) is “good” in your community’s Massachusetts Fire & Incident Support (ISU) Response District.
  • On your own property as close as possible to the source of material to be burned; no less than 75 feet away from all dwellings and away from utility lines.
  • Have fire suppression tools handy; keep a fire extinguisher or charged garden hose, and a shovel and a rake close by.
  • The fire is constantly monitored by an adult. Leaving burning unattended is a reason to revoke burning permits.
  • Use paper and kindling to start a fire and progressively larger pieces of wood. Parts of a leftover Christmas tree may also be used.
  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid to start a fire. The risk of personal injury in these cases is too high.
  • Burn one small pile at a time and slowly add to it. This will help keep the fire from getting out of control.
  • Burn the fire down to the coals, drown them with water, spread them out, and then drown them again.
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