Contrary to popular belief, most wildfires in Maryland burn in late fall and early spring, typically from mid-October to mid-December, and from March to mid-May.
Always be careful with fire. Extinguish all campfires completely, and if you must burn debris, follow these regulations to ensure safety. When burning debris, always have a firebreak at least 10 feet wide in all directions, clear of all flammable material. Burn between the hours of 4 p.m. and 12 midnight, only on days that are not dry or windy. Always obtain any required permits and have an adult monitoring the fire at all times until it is completely out and cold. Have water and adequate tools available in case the fire were to escape.
There are things that can be done around the house to further prevent wildfires. Always keep a clean chimney and install a spark arrestor over the flue opening. A spark arrestor should be constructed of corrosion resistant metal mesh with openings 3/8 – 1/2 inch in diameter. Remove all vegetation extending within 15 feet in all directions of any flue or vent opening. Dispose of ashes properly by soaking them in water in a metal container for at least 3 days. Following these precautions can help prevent a wildfire from occurring. There are also things that homeowners can do around their property to help minimize the chance of having property damaged or destroyed in the event of a fire.
Windborne embers called “firebrands” often precede approaching wildfires. These red-hot embers are blown against structures and trapped in crevices and other areas. Firebrands are commonly trapped under decks and porches, between roof shingles and siding boards, in woodpiles and other flammable debris, and in vents or other inlets. Once trapped, the embers can smolder and eventually set the structure on fire. Areas around structures, under decks, and on rooftops should be cleared of flammable debris. Flammable materials such as gasoline should be stored in approved containers and away from occupied buildings. Fire resistant building materials should be used, such as asphalt roofing shingles, tile, slate, sheet metal, aluminum, brick, or stone.
If firefighters or any emergency personnel must come to your home, it is important to have all roads and intersections leading to your home clearly labeled. Have your house number clearly posted, using reflective numerals at least four inches tall, so it is visible from the road in both directions of travel. Take the time to plan escape routes in case of a fire.
One of the most effective ways for a homeowner to protect their property from wildfire is by creating “defensible space” around their home. Defensible space is an area of limited fuels around a structure that reduces the likelihood of fire spreading directly to the structure, and provides an area for firefighters to make a stand against an approaching fire.
Defensible space is a fuel break created by removing excess fuels within a 30 – 50 foot wide area around the home (wider in areas with steep slopes). This does not mean removing all trees and landscaping, but rather, removing fuels that can transmit fire to the house or to each other. Single shade trees and ornamental shrubs should be kept at least 15 feet apart and should not be allowed to touch any structures. Branches should be removed from larger trees to a height of 10 feet. Woodpiles should be moved at least 50 feet from any occupied buildings. Ornamental plants should be chosen carefully and resinous or highly flammable varieties should be avoided. It is also important to keep this area free of accumulations of leaves or other debris, and to maintain a healthy mowed lawn.
For landowners who have a Frederick County Forest Resource Ordinance forest easement on their land, it is possible to create adequate defensible space while adhering to the minimum forest requirements. This is done by limiting the defensible space to a 35-foot wide area around the house. In this area understory growth (shrubs, bushes, vines, saplings, seedlings, brush, etc.) may be removed or thinned, provided that 100 stems per acre remain and at least 50% of those have a caliper of 2 inches or more. Maintaining a good defensible space can mean the difference between a minimal or a major loss to wildfire.
With a minimum of planning and a day of work, you can help protect your home against the threat of wildfire. Exercising these few quick and easy precautions can potentially save you and your family from an incredible monetary and emotional loss. You may find that the peace of mind, alone, is well worth the effort.
If you are interested in finding out more about wildfire in Maryland and how to protect yourself and your home, contact David Robbins of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service at 301-791-4010.
(Visit Maryland's Firewise website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/fire/firewise.asp)