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Wildfire season in the western US has started

Nationally, almost 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans. These preventable wildfires threaten lives, property and our precious natural resources.

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The 2021 wildfire season is poised to be potentially one of the most active fire seasons with many western states experiencing severe droughts.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports, “Much of the country is experiencing wildland fire activity and areas are competing for firefighting resources. More than half of the nation’s wildland firefighting resources are committed.”

Historically, wildfire season runs from May through October, but wildfires in the US burned hundreds of thousands of acres in December 2020. Here are 10 tips to prevent wildfires.


1. Check weather and drought conditions

Truck heads out across a field, away from a fire whirl and smoke.
fire whirl seen on the Pine Gulch Fire in Colorado. Photo by Kyle Miller, Bureau of Land Management. 

Pay close attention to weather and drought conditions, which can affect the flammability of vegetation.

Avoid any activities that involve fire or sparks when it’s hot, dry and windy. If the conditions aren’t right, choose non-flammable options. Remember, conditions and local restrictions should guide your decision for any fire-related activity such as building a campfire, operating equipment, off-roading on dry grass, or burning debris. 


2. Build your campfire in an open location and far from flammables

Firefighter stands in smoke at the Soberanes Fire.
The Soberanes Fire located in the Los Padres National Forest in California started because of an illegal campfire. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

Many people love to go camping and enjoy the warmth and light from a campfire, but your campfire can cause wildfires if you do not build and extinguish it properly.

To build a safe campfire, make sure you:

  • Select a flat, open location away from flammable materials such as logs, brush or decaying leaves and needles. ​
  • Scrape away grass, leaves and needles down to the mineral soil. 
  • Cut wood in short lengths, pile it within the cleared area and then light the fire. 
  • Stay with your fire.
  • Extinguish it completely before leaving.

3. Douse your campfire until it’s cold

Firefighter holds a radio as a helicopter flies over the Rice Ridge Fire.
The 2017 Rice Ridge Fire burned northeast of Seeley Lake in Montana’s Lolo National Forest. Photo by Kari Greer, U.S. Forest Service.

Make sure your campfire is completely out by following the steps below: 

  1. Douse the fire with at least one bucket of water.
  2. Stir it.
  3. Add another bucket of water.
  4. Stir it again. 

Your campfire should be cold to the touch before you leave.


4. Keep vehicles off dry grass

Indian Creek Fire off in the distance across a dry, grassy field.
The Indian Creek Fire grew to 14,000 acres in size a few days after it started. Photo by Kristen Munday, Bureau of Land Management.

If you are off-roading, remember that your exhaust can reach temperatures of 1,000+ degrees! So, avoid driving or parking over dry grass.


5. Regularly maintain your equipment and vehicle

Firefighter maintains a chainsaw.
The Lakeview Crew 7 is a U.S. military veteran fire crew. Photo by Kari Greer, National Interagency Fire Center.

Vehicles and equipment can shoot sparks from their exhaust, particularly vehicles that haven’t received regular maintenance.


6. Practice vehicle safety

Firefighter maintains a chainsaw.
U.S. firefighter maintains a chainsaw while clearing brush along a road in Victoria, Australia. Photo by Neal Herbert, Department of the Interior.

Whether it’s a car, truck, or OHV (off-highway vehicle), make sure your vehicle is current on all mechanical checkups and suited for off-road adventures.

Carry a shovel, bucket and a fire extinguisher in your vehicle to put out fires. Off-highway vehicles must have a spark arrester. You should also carry a bucket, but you could also use a helmet or anything else to carry water. 


7. Check your tires, bearings and axles on your trailer

Jackson Hotshots beside a road with smoke billowing in the background.
Jackson Hotshots on the 2020 Moon Fish Fire in Florida. Photo by Shelby Fox, Bureau of Land Management.

If you’re towing a trailer, please remember to do a maintenance check to ensure the tires are not worn, the bearings and axles are greased, and safety chains are properly in place and not dragging on the ground.


8. Keep sparks away from dry vegetation

Firefighters walk through smoke and extinguish flames at the Lava Fire.
The Lava Fire near Christmas Valley and Ft. Fort Rock, Oregon was ignited by lightning. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

Make sure you never operate equipment that produces sparks near dry vegetation. Always clear the area around your workspace. This area should be even larger if it is windy and dry. 

Firefighter uses a chainsaw to clear branches and brush.
Firefighter clears brush along a road in Victoria, Australia. Photo by Neal Herbert, Department of the Interior.
Firefighter clears debris at the Cougar Creek Fire.
Lightning started the Cougar Creek Fire in Washington and it grew to be over 41,000 acres a month after it started. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

Create clearings where all flammables have been removed. The width or radius of the clearing will vary with the conditions from 10 to 25 feet.


9. Check conditions and regulations before you use fireworks or consider safe alternatives

Hand crew walks toward the mountains at sunset.
A hand crew from Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Navajo Region returns to fire camp while working on the Decker Fire in Colorado. Photo by Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Fireworks start over 19,000 fires and send over 9,000 people to the ER each year in the United States.

Check your local federal, state and city regulations before using fireworks. States, counties and cities may have different laws and regulations, so a little bit of research could save you the cost of an improper fireworks use penalty, or worse – the cost of fighting a wildfire.  

Consider safe alternatives such as glow sticks or silly string.


10. Cautiously burn debris and never when it’s windy or restricted

Burning debris piles in the snow.
Prineville District fuel crews burn debris piles to reduce summer fires and keep firefighters safe. Photo by Jeff Kitchens, Bureau of Land Management.  

Sometimes, people burn trash, leaves, agricultural waste, or other materials.

If you plan to burn debris on your private property, make sure you have water nearby (such as a garden hose) and never burn anything if it’s windy.

Firefighters stir and douse ashes with water.
Hand and engine crews conduct mop up operations on the Barry Point Fire to make sure that there are no hotspots left. Photo by Bureau of Land Management: Oregon.

Once your burn is completed, be sure to “mop up” the ashes with water and stirring.

Wildfires often start from “holdover” debris piles that were not extinguished, days or even weeks after they were burned. There may be burning restrictions in your area, so contact your local fire authority for more information and debris burning tips.


And, remember, not all fire is bad

Wildland fires can be devastating, but fire also plays a natural and necessary role in many landscapes.

Firefighters monitor a prescribed burn at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.
A prescribed fire at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas improves habitat for monarch butterflies and other wildlife. Photo by Jeff Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fire is vital for some wildlife habitat. The diversity of plants and animals you enjoy on public lands can depend on fire.

Firefighters monitor a prescribed burn at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
Firefighters at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida monitor a prescribed fire. Photo by Joseph Whelan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Periodic low-intensity fires speed up the process of forest decomposition, create open patches for new plants to grow, improve habitat and food for animals and deliver nutrients to the plants that survive. 

Clark Kent

Clark Kent came to the city of Metropolis to study journalism at Metropolis University. After graduation, Clark took a job at the Daily Planet as a reporter. Under the direction of editor-in-chief Perry White, he quickly gained a reputation as a journalist who was unafraid to cover the injustices of the city, including its political corruption .

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