The mild winter we’ve been having could bring a higher risk for wildfires, depending on whether we have a soggy or dry spring. We’ve already had a forest fire and some brush fires in parts of the state and it’s a reminder the lack of a deep snow pack this winter can raise the risk.
Levi Gelnett, a wildfire prevention specialist for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, says a snow pack would have compressed the leaf litter, making it longer to dry out. But he says this year, the leaf litter is light and fluffy, allowing air to circulate, making it more flammable.
Gelnett says even a spark from a passing train or someone taking target practice can ignite a fire that can spread quickly. A big cause of wildfires in Pennsylvania is controlled burning that gets out of hand. An unattended campfire apparently caused a recent forest fire north of Allentown. Carelessly tossed cigarettes can also lead to wildfires, but Gelnett says that’s a bigger problem in Western states.
Gelnett says a recent fire in Knox Township, Clearfield County scorched 46 acres and was started by a person shooting targets. He says the bullet created enough of a spark to ignite the fire. One person suffered burn injuries trying to put out the fire.
Gelnett says there are one hour fuels, like weeds, leaves and grass that can dry out quickly. He says people should do controlled burns carefully on rainy days and make sure to rake any dry vegetation away from the burn barrel. He recommends people consider alternatives to burning debris. If a controlled burn gets out of hand, you should call 911. The DCNR website has a list of burn restrictions across the state.