By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer
July 15, 2020- Wildfires? In Ohio? Absolutely. Ohio’s Emergency Management System (EMS) reports in its Hazard Mitigation Plan, that hundreds of wildfires occur in Ohio each year. Most of them are caused by humans, either on purpose or accidentally. Common causes besides arson are the burning of cleared debris, campfires, smoking and, of course, children playing with lighters or matches. The fires in Ohio are not on the catastrophic size of those in the western United States, but they can still do great damage.
Wildfires are especially dangerous when they happen in areas surrounded by homes and businesses. Last year, for example, a fire got out of control in a Conneaut farm field near care facilities for both seniors and developmentally disabled adults. Even though it was relatively small, you can imagine the panic the fire caused. In recent years, flames have roared through the Mentor Marsh, which is surrounded by densely populated communities. I personally witnessed a wildfire spring up during a dry spell not long ago. While driving on I-90 I was stunned to see pine trees engulfed in flames along the side of the freeway. Fortunately, fire teams were able to put out the fire before it got farther out of control.
It’s important to know the fire guidelines for where you live. Open burning during daylight hours is often prohibited in the months when wildfires are hardest to control. While July isn’t regularly on that list, dry weather conditions like we’ve experienced create greater risk. According to the National Weather Service’s online Fire Weather page for our region on the last day of June, a dry spell of nearly two weeks was predicted. That included the 4th of July weekend, traditionally celebrated with cookouts, campfires and fireworks.
Social distancing due to COVID-19 caused many such events to be canceled, community fireworks displays among them. Unfortunately, that encouraged many individuals to create fireworks displays of their own.
According to a June 20 Wilmington News Journal article, mishandled fireworks also cause fires, with July among the busiest days for professional firefighters. Fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires last year, including 1,900 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires and 17,100 outside and other fires.”
What can you do to keep wildfire risk at a minimum?
- Water the area around a site where you plan to build a fire.
- If a garden hose won’t reach the burn site, be sure to have buckets of water nearby.
- Be aware of the direction in which the wind is blowing. Do not light fires when wind is high or gusty.
- Remove anything from the area that might catch on fire from flying sparks.
- Never leave a fire unattended. Soak the burning material thoroughly when you are done.
The American Red Cross responds when disasters such as wildfires occur, even on a small scale. To learn more about this and other services provided by the Red Cross in our area, visit redcross.org/NOH.
If you would like to volunteer to assist those suffering from a disaster both here in Northern Ohio and across the country, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.