Wildfires: How you can stop them before they start

ST. GEORGE – May was a wet month and vegetation growth has been enhanced by the moisture and mild temperatures. June temperatures are beginning to rise, and unless recent rains continue, vegetation should begin to dry out, increasing fire danger.

Washington County has a long history of wildfires in the late spring and summer months. Unfortunately, Washington County Emergency Services Director Pete Kuhlmann said in a statement released Tuesday, most of the county’s fires are human-caused and are the result of carelessness.

In Arizona, more than 50 percent of wildfires are human-caused, according to the Arizona State Forestry Division. What we do in and with our vehicles, and how we tend to them, can make a difference in vehicle-caused wildfires.

“We are all responsible for preventing wildfires. Drivers should take a few extra precautions to prevent roadside fires from igniting,” Arizona State Forester Jeff Whitney said. “It can be as simple as ensuring your trailer tow chains are secure and not dragging on the ground.”

With approach of the fire season, agencies are reminding residents, visitors and motorists of things to pay attention to, to prevent wildfires.

In your own or any surrounding environment: 

  • Before you do a planned burn, be sure you can legally burn in your area; check with local authorities and obtain a permit
  • Check the weather before you light a fire; high winds, high temperatures and low humidity radically intensify fire
  • Choose a safe burning site away from trees, bushes, brush, buildings or other flammable fuels
  • Be prepared to extinguish your fire quickly; have water, a fire extinguisher or the like on hand
  • Don’t burn garbage, waste, construction debris, plastic, foam, rubber or other offensive substances
  • Always extinguish the fire completely before you leave it
  • Don’t throw lighted material, including cigarettes, from vehicles
  • In the outdoors, be responsible with cigarettes and charcoal grills, and only dispose of ashes and such in an ashtray or ashcan
  • Be careful using tools that generate heat or sparks
  • Use fireworks with caution; obey fireworks laws and don’t use illegal fireworks
  • Never park on, or drive through, dry grass
  • Be careful with the use of heat or spark-generating tools
  • Be careful with off-highway vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and the like; use spark arresters – these are required for recreational vehicles in some areas where fire risk is high
  • If shooting in the outdoors, choose your backdrop carefully; don’t use exploding targets and don’t use jacketed ammunition near dry brush

When camping, even when there are no fire restrictions in place:

  • If you don’t need a fire when camping, don’t build one
  • If you do need a campfire, use exiting campfire rings to minimize impact to surrounding soil
  • Ensure the area surrounding a campfire has a bare dirt buffer surrounding it
  • Once you have a strong fire going, add larger pieces of dry wood to keep it burning steadily
  • Keep your fire at a manageable size
  • Stay with your fire; never leave it unattended
  • Never cut live trees or branches from live trees
  • Have a shovel and plenty of water, more than you think you will need, on hand to put your fire out
  • Always supervise children and pets around a campfire
  • Make sure your campfire is completely out before you go to bed or leave the area
    • Allow the wood to burn completely to ash,
    • Douse it with water and stir until it is cold to the touch
    • Drown ALL embers, not just the red ones
    • Pour until hissing sound stops
    • Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel
    • Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers
    • If you do not have water, use dirt; mix enough dirt or sand with the embers and continue adding and stirring until all material is cool
    • Remember: do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.
  • When using a portable stove, clear the area of grasses and other fine fuels and be careful to prevent the stove from tipping over
  • If you see smoke or fire, note the location and report it to authorities; do not attempt to put out a fire by yourself

In a vehicle:

  • Avoid driving or parking your vehicle in tall grass
  • Never throw a lighted cigarette out of a vehicle
  • When pulling a trailer, attach safety chains securely; loose chains can drag on the pavement and cause sparks, igniting roadside fires
  • Look behind you before driving away from fire-sensitive locations such as areas with tall grass or campsites to check for signs of a developing fire
  • Observe “Red Flag” fire weather warnings; red flag warnings are issued when weather conditions are conducive to the easy start and rapid spread of wildfires
  • Always use a spark arrestor on internal combustion engines

If you live in a wildland interface area, be prepared for wildfire:

  • Provide for defensible space around your home and outbuildings
  • Have a wildfire action plan for your family
  • Have your important documents and disaster kits ready to go in an emergency
  • Set up an account and register your phone and property address at com so you can receive evacuation notices and other emergency alert information from fire managers
  • Leave early if a fire threatens your neighborhood

If you are traveling in the vicinity of a wildfire:

  • Drivers should also remember these tips when driving through smoke from wildfires:
  • Drive with lights on low beam. High beams will reflect back off the smoke and can reduce your visibility even more.
  • Look out for slow-moving and parked vehicles. Other cars may be traveling slowly due to reduced visibility. Emergency vehicles may be parked along the side of the road.
  • Increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Don’t rush or speed to get out of the smoke.
  • If you’re having trouble seeing the roadway, use the right edge of the pavement or the painted edge line stripe as a guide.

Being safe with fire is an individual effort that benefits everyone.


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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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