MASON COUNTY — “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
This well-known phrase from Smokey the Bear is no doubt stressed among boy scouts and other outdoorsmen. However, simple popular phrases like this can often be overlooked, and seen as not being too important. But as some have come to find, it only takes the smallest spark or ember to start an uncontrollable fire.
It was reported that Spring Forest Fire Season began in West Virginia on March 1. From that time until the trees fully leaf out, the hazard of wildfires will be present on dry days. West Virginia has an average of 1500 wildfires which burn on average about 32,000 acres yearly. 99 percent of these wildfires are caused by human activity and thus are preventable. Restricted outdoor burning hours will be in effect from March 1 through May 31. During this three month period, it will be illegal to burn outside from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The reason for this restriction is because fires are more likely to escape control when daily temperatures are at their highest, the air is driest, and winds are strongest, which are usually the conditions found during the day. Once the sun starts to go down, temperatures drop, dew falls, and winds die down, making a fire escaping control less likely. The restrictions on burning during these hours do not apply to cooking or warming fires, or when the ground is covered continuously with at least one inch of snow.
It was also reported that permits that allow burning during restricted hours may be obtained from the West Virginia Division of Forestry. However, permits are only issued for commercial burning and training purposes and not to individuals. There must be a ten foot wide safety-strip completely encircling any fire. This strip must be cleared of all flammable materials such as dead leaves, dried grass, or other debris. Burning of any material other than vegetative debris (brush, limbs, leaves. etc,) is illegal. It is illegal to burn household trash, petroleum products like oil and tires (generally anything that makes a black smoke), or plywood, wafer board, or wood with paint or varnish on it.
All outdoor fires must be attended at all times until they are dead out. This means someone must be physically present with the fire continuously while it is burning and everything, including any embers hidden in the ashes, must be extinguished before leaving the fire.
According to a press release, violations of the forest fire laws are punishable by fine and allowing a fire to escape control can make the burner liable for paying the cost of putting out the resulting wildfire. Landowners are obligated to render all practicable assistance in putting out a wildfire on their property even if they did not cause it. Failure to assist can leave the landowner liable for the payment of suppression costs. The deliberate setting of fire on the lands of another (arson) is a felony punishable by confinement to a state penitentiary and/or a fine.
Following are a few safety tips to avoid these situations.
*Don’t burn on windy days. Wind borne embers can travel well beyond your safety-strip.
*If you must burn on or against a slope, clear a wider safety-strip on the uphill side. Hillsides draft hot air and embers up like a chimney.
*Don’t set materials on fire that are so large that they will not burn completely in the allotted time.
*Have tools and help on hand to control your fire before you light it.
*Check fireplace ashes for embers before you dump them outside.
*Keep electric fences clean of brush.
*Clear away brush and other flammables from your house, barns, and outbuildings for a distance of forty feet to protect them from wild fires.
*Correctly use ashtrays.
*Call your local emergency services before you burn and let them know who and where you are. It will keep the fire department from mistaking your fire from an escaped fire. The number for Mason County is 675-9911.
Questions concerning outdoor burning the forest fire laws or burning permits can be answered by calling the West Virginia Division of Forestry at Lakin, at 675-6626.