A National Wildfire Prevention Education Team (NWPET) is assisting the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Forestry's local forest districts in conducting wildfire prevention awareness activities throughout our area. The NWPET, compromised of four people from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia, will be working from the office of the Tuscarora State Park until April 19. The local fire districts have determined the need to increase public awareness concerning the threats of wildfires in our area during the spring fire season. Carbon County and other surrounding areas is one of Pennsylvania's top hot spots for brush fires. Fire season typically begins after the snow melts in mid March, and continues through green-up in early May. State fire wardens state conditions, currently at code-red high fire alert level, are perfect for fast-moving brush fires, as all the dry brush and high winds are perfect ingredients to fuel a brush fire.

Uncontrolled escaped debris burning fires and arson fires are the two major causes of wildfires in this part of Pennsylvania, representing about two thirds of the cause of brush fires. Wildfires have in recent history, as well as and currently, represent a higher risk to people, property, and natural resources in Northeast Pennsylvania. By improving public awareness of how to prevent wildfires, and creating wildfire resistant zones around homes and structures in wooded areas, people can decrease the effects of wildfires. Local residents can join in with local fire departments, county officials and Bureau of Forestry personnel in preventing wildfires. NWPET members will work closely with Bureau of Forestry and local law enforcement personnel to develop and deliver fire prevention messages in areas of high arson fire occurrence.

Various fire companies and stations from around our region spent time learning and sharing their knowledge with the NWPE team. Some firefighters attending sharing their experiences with the team were Tamaqua Southward firefighters and brush team members Mark Bower, George Haldeman, Kevin Breiner, Lehighton fire warden Jim Shaffer, special assistant fire warden Barry Gilbert, New England Fire Company fire chief and warden Dave Duffy, Ringtown Valley Fire and Rescue chairman Ray Dunsavage, McAdoo Fire Company special assistant firefighter warden Gary Pepna Jr, and other firefighters from around our area.

They are also asking everyone to delay burning until after spring season. Despite spring being one of the most attractive times of the year, it can be also be a nightmare for wildfire control personnel, volunteer forest fire wardens, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource's Bureau of Forestry. The Bureau is urging all residents to prevent against escaped wildfires caused by burning debris. Debris burning is the leading cause of wildfires and accounts for about a third of all fires in the state.

Glenn Bell, Public Information Officer with the National Wildfire Prevention and Education Team presently headquartered at Tuscarora State Park, stated "Homeowners should not let the harsh winter and recent rains give them a false sense of security when burning debris. It only takes a few hours of windy weather to dry out a forest. A good rule of thumb is if it is a day where clothing could be hung outside to dry then it is hazardous to burn and a debris fire can quickly escape."

"The very best step people could take is to postpone all burning until summer when fire danger is greatly reduced when forest land greens." noted Bell. If burning can't be delayed, the following steps should be taken when burning: Check to see if there is a county or township burn ban in effect. Contact your local emergency dispatch center to advise them you are going to burn a large amount of debris. Ensure a radius of 10 feet is cleared around the burn barrel or burn area. Ensure the burn barrel is solidnot falling apart due to rust and has a screen cover. If the fire escapes, call 911 immediately. Don't burn on a dry windy day. Burn early in the morning or late afternoon. If you are going to burn a large amount of debris, separate debris into small, manageable burn piles. Be aware of increases in temperature and wind speed. Watch the fire until it is completely out. Use composting and recycling instead of burning.

The team also brought Smokey Bear with them as an additional education tool for the youngsters. Besides area sporting events, one of the events they and Smokey Bear will be at is the Tamaqua Chamber of Commerce Fishing Derby scheduled Saturday April 10 at the Rabbit Run Reservoir on Rabbit Run Road in Tamaqua which is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The education team is developing messages, handouts, and other information that can be distributed by agency personnel, church groups, community service organizations and others in a door to door fire prevention awareness campaign during periods of high wildfire danger. For more information about wildfire prevention and training, call Wildfire Prevention Education Team Public Information Officer Glenn Bell at (717) 372-7576 or visit www.firewise.org [2]. Literature, handouts, and (on occasion) Smokey Bear will be at the Tuscarora State Park until April 19. Call the Tuscarora State Park visitors center at (570) 467-3361 to confirm or for more information.