Dormant grasses fuel fires, concern

Firefighters attribute a growing number of grass fires across the state to a combination of dry, dormant grasses and carelessness with debris burning and other fire use outdoors. Those areas missed by significant precipitation during the recent frontal passage face even higher risk of fires. Fire control officials urge increased attention to outdoor fire safety practices to prevent a continued rise in wildfire activity and reduce the potential threat to lives, improved property and natural resources. “Texas residents and visitors need to be aware of the fire risks posed by dry grass and brush and take appropriate safety precautions,” said Mary Kay Hicks, fire prevention coordinator with the Texas Forest Service in Waco. “Burn household trash only in a burn barrel or other receptacle equipped with a metal grill or mesh to contain burning embers. Prior to burning debris outdoors, establish wide firebreaks down to bare soil around brush piles, leaves and other materials; the larger the pile, the wider the firebreak needs to be. “Dispose of smoking materials properly’crush out completely in your ashtray or in bare soil. Avoid using spark-producing equipment around dry grass and weeds. Prevent campfires from escaping by using only designated fire pits or portable camp stoves, and by never leaving fires unattended. Use barbecue grills away from dry grass and thoroughly soak coals or embers before discarding in a fire-safe location.” Grass fires are becoming a significant problem in some areas. Smith County fire departments have responded to 84 grass fires during the first 17 days of January alone, according to Jim Seaton, county fire marshal in Tyler. Texas Forest Service fire dispatchers report seeing a gradual increase in wildfires across the entire Texas region, and fire departments reports received by the TFS also show an increasing wildfire load on firefighters. “An increased risk of wildfires is normal during the winter,” said Tom Spencer, fire risk assessment coordinator with the Texas Forest Service in Huntsville. “Normal means that fine fuels such as dead grasses will dry enough during periods of dry weather to create a fire hazard, a situation that will likely remain until spring green-up.” “During the winter while grass is dormant, moisture in the grass comes primarily from the humidity in the air, so the amount of moisture in the soil will have little impact on the flammability of the vegetation,” said Spencer. “Where dead grass is present, the transition from low fire danger during rainy weather to high fire danger can happen quickly. If windy conditions with low humidity follow after a rain, the transition back to high fire danger can be expected to occur within a few days, or possibly even hours.”

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