The mild days of early spring bring the urge to clean up yards. The sun is high in the sky, shining down through yet-bare branches, the days are longer and warmer, and a brisk breeze is invigorating. But those very conditions that make for perfect spring weather also fuel destructive wildfires.
So, please, resist the urge to burn those piles of debris: That garden hose and rake won't contain fast-spreading brush fire.
Brush fires destroy about 10,000 acres of private and state forest land every year in Pennsylvania, according to a proclamation released in March by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Last year, 717 wildfires destroyed 3,186.4 acres, according to DCNR. Ninety-eight percent of wildfires are caused by people, according to DCNR. Of the total number of fires last year, 217, or 30.3 percent, were caused by debris burning.
Most wildfires, about 85 percent, happen in early spring, March, April and May, when dry grasses and brush can easily be ignited. The fires are then quickly spread by high winds. The fall wildfire season generally happens in October and November.
On Wednesday, Schuylkill County commissioners enacted a ban on open burning. Carbon County Commissioners Chairman Wayne Nothstein, who is a volunteer firefighter, said he's been watching the weather alerts.
"We would not make a decision on a burn ban unless almost all fire chiefs agreed," he said.
Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator Mark Nalesnik said that, so far, East Penn Township, and Nesquehoning, Jim Thorpe and Summit Hill boroughs have banned open burning.
He expects the numbers to go up.
"The problem is that we have had very little rainfall, and the humidity is very low, so everything on the surface is very dry," he said. "The high winds we've had over the past few days have really dried everything out. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for a while."
DCNR encourages homeowners to take steps to reduce the risk of wildfires, including making sure roofs are clear of dead leaves; keeping chimneys clean and equipped with spark arresters; keeping shovels, rakes and ladders handy; keeping 100 feet of garden hose attached to the outdoor faucet; avoiding outdoor burning; removing all but scattered trees from within 30 feet of your home and other buildings; keeping your grass green and mowed 100 feet from any structure; and keeping your woodpile at least 25 feet from your home and from fuel tanks.
DCNR encourages communities that are built in heavily-wooded areas to follow the guidelines listed in the Pennsylvania Firewise Community Program.
Fishermen, campers and hikers are reminded that open fires are prohibited on state forest lands between March 1 and May 25.