Year in and year out, there's a certain rhythm to particular kinds of problems.

When the weather turns warm and school has let out for summer break, there's often an uptick in petty neighborhood incidents.

In March and October, before the leaves are on the trees or before there's a hard freeze, respectively, brush fires pop up across Harford County and Maryland.

Typically, if there's a spate of house fires, it relates to the changing of the season from summer to autumn as people are making use of fireplaces and turning on appliances that have been dormant for weeks or months.


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This summer has been a noteworthy exception. In the past several weeks, a disturbing number of homes and businesses have been severely damaged or destroyed by fires.

As Edward Hopkins, chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, put it when asked about the situation for an article that appeared last week in this newspaper: "...it is unusual to see so many and that they are clustered so close together in such a short time frame."

He went on to note that, aside from coincidental timing, there is nothing to link the fires. Causes have included rags in a trash bag igniting, a clothes dryer malfunctioning, improper disposal of coals from a barbecue, a malfunctioning fan, among others.

While human injuries associated with the fires have been relatively minor, pets have succumbed to smoke and flames, which any pet-owner can attest is a tragedy in its own right. Moreover, keepsakes destroyed by fire generally cannot be replaced, even as it is possible to rebuild a home.

Hopkins also offered a cautionary observation: "...the fact remains that fire is unpredictable, dangerous and can occur at any time given the right circumstances."

Fire may be unpredictable, but it often can be prevented. Given the recent series of fires and their disparate causes, just about everyone would do well to take a few minutes to check on dryers, electrical cords and other potential household hazards, and be extra cautious with charcoal grills, candles and other exposed flames.

The advice offered by Smokey the Bear about the safety of his home, "Only you can prevent forest fires," is equally appropriate when it comes to house fires.