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Pennsylvania officials warn seasonal fire risks are on the rise this Spring

Haze from wildfires covers a mountain seen from Swatara Township, Dauphin County on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

 Rachel McDevitt / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Haze from wildfires covers a mountain seen from Swatara Township, Dauphin County on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) officials are urging residents to keep in mind there is a high danger of woodland and brush fires this time of year.

The greatest dangers occur during the spring months of March, April and May, and the autumn months of October and November.  In Pennsylvania, 99 percent of wildfires are caused by people.

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn says “Dry conditions across the Commonwealth have led to elevated risks for fires to spread this year.  Wildfire dangers climb with each day of sun and wind and we encourage Pennsylvanians to be cautious when lighting fires during these conditions.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of central and eastern Pennsylvania is abnormally dry.  This places the region on the drought scale, but at the lowest level currently.

David Martin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College says so far in 2023, much of central PA is 3 inches below normal for rainfall.  He says concern over drought will increase if the dry conditions continue when its time to plant wheat and corn in late May.

Certain conditions are necessary for a wildfire to occur:

  • An available fuel source, such as dried grass or leaves
  • Dry conditions, including low relative humidity
  • An ignition source—some way for the fire to start

Thousands of acres of state and private woodlands are burned by wildfires each year.  Debris burning, equipment use, power lines, and campfires are some of the most common causes of wildfires in Pennsylvania.

Light rainfall in many areas, lack of green foliage in the spring, low humidity and sunny, windy days all combine to increase the chances of forest and brush fires spreading.

“Most brush fires and wildfires are preventable if people take the proper steps to practice safe behaviors,” State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger said.  “We want to remind people to be careful with campfires and backyard burning so that they can take the proper precautions at all times.  It can help save lives, protect wildlife habitats, and reduce the strain on our hardworking firefighters.”

DCNR encourages those starting a fire at home or at a campsite to make sure there are no combustible items within 10 feet of the fire.

Additionally, it is recommended to have a rake or shovel along with water to properly suppress the embers of a fire.

Officials recommend checking DCNR’s website: to see if there is an elevated fire risk.  Currently, much of central and eastern Pennsylvania are seeing moderate danger of wildfires.

Other advice for preventing wildfires from DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry includes:

  • Clear the area around the fire prior to starting it
  • Keep the fire small and never leave it unattended
  • Before you strike a campfire match, first consider if it is too warm, dry or windy for a fire and if the surrounding area is free of leaves and other combustibles
  • Make sure there is a ready source of water (bucket or hose) nearby and a rake to extinguish any embers that might escape; and
  • When you are done with the fire put it out with water until all ashes are cold to the touch

Residents are also advised to create “safe zones” around homes and cabins by removing leaves and other debris from the ground and rain gutters, stacking firewood away from structures and trimming overhanging branches.

Detailed information about wildfire prevention as well as materials for kids and educators can be found on the Smokey Bear website:

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