Dry conditions – erased by Tuesday's heavy rains – had kept Harford County's fire companies hopping in recent days as they worked to extinguish one field fire after another.
The majority of them have been small in the days following Thursday's fire that burned 4.3 acres of woods in Street.
Heavy rains Tuesday took away the immediate danger, but a state forestry official warned that small combustible materials can dry out quickly and present a danger once the weather conditions are right for a fire.
Those conditions include low relative humidity, high winds and dry flammable materials such as leaves and grasses, Monte Mitchell, state fire supervisor for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, said.
Patterns of wet and dry weather are typical during the spring fire season, which lasts from February to mid-May. The fall fire season is between September and November.
"We have a good series of drying days where we have those [fire] conditions, and then you'll have another front come through like [Tuesday], when we have these wet conditions," Mitchell explained.
He noted smaller materials such as leaves and grasses are known as "10-hour fuels," meaning they will dry out within 10 hours of getting wet.
"The larger the fuels, the longer it takes for them to dry out," he said.
Mitchell said anyone who is conducting outdoor burning should clear a 10-foot fire break around the fire. People should also remain at the fire scene and have the tools to control the fire nearby.
He said people should do other "good common sense things" to prevent fires such as not throwing ashes into dry areas and extinguishing burning tobacco materials.
"Today's rains will help for now but that doesn't take the place of human prevention," Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said via e-mail Tuesday.
He noted several acres were burned during a field and woods fire March 22 in the Bel Air area.
Gardiner stressed that anyone who wishes to conduct a "controlled burn" must obtain a permit from the local health department, and the state enforces a "burn ban" from June 1 to Sept. 1 each year.
Maryland residents cannot burn garbage or yard waste, as well as leaves, he stated. Residents can, however, still have campfires or barbecues in their yards.
"During this time of the year the air quality is greatly diminished and field and woods are more susceptible to fires due to the inherently drier conditions," Gardiner wrote.
The burn ban is enforced in Harford County by the state's Department of Natural Resources, as well as county fire companies and the health department. Anyone who violates it could face fines or jail time, plus cover the cost of putting out the fire, Gardiner explained in his e-mail.
He encouraged residents who want to have a "recreational fire" to keep a "safe distance" between the fire and their homes and any nearby woods.
They should also soak their coals in water and then dispose of them in a metal container away from the home, and soak down the fire pit.
"Also keep a garden hose or a few buckets of water nearby to help if the fire were to escape its contained area," Gardiner stated.
At least six calls for field fires were made to local fire companies over the previous weekend, although none was as large as Thursday's fire, which started early that afternoon in a brush pile on a Macton Road farm and spread to more than five acres of woods.
About 100 firefighters from companies in Harford and Cecil counties, as well as southern York County, Pa., spent about four hours containing the fire and then putting out "hot spots" in the hilly and wooded terrain.
Conditions that day were ideal for a fire, and Harford County officials received an advisory Thursday morning from the National Weather Service that "weather conditions were appropriate for wildland fires to occur," Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, said Tuesday.
"Within four hours of that advisory we had the significant woods and field fire off of Macton Road," Thomas said.
No firefighters or civilians were injured, but a shed and a vehicle on the farm were damaged.
"Here in Maryland, 98 percent of your fires are caused by people," Mitchell said. "The only natural cause is lightning."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun