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Current dry weather conditions making brush fires more common

Local and state officials are asking people to take extra precautions in the current dry weather conditions after numerous brush fires have popped up in the county and state.

The Westminster fire company fought two brush fires within 24 hours, beginning with a fire that started in mulch next to a home on Sullivan Road around 2 p.m. Monday.

The fire then burned the side of the house and caused $20,000 worth of damage to the siding, said Public Information Officer Kevin Dayhoff.

On Tuesday, the fire company was dispatched at 11:26 a.m. to another brush fire in a field along North Center Street near Winters Mill High School, he said.

Crews from Pleasant Valley, Reese, Taneytown, Gamber and Manchester fire companies joined the Westminster fire company and had the fire contained at 1:13 p.m., Dayhoff said.

The only damage was to the field and nearby woods, he said.

Steven Zubrick, science and operation officer for the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office, said brush fires have been sprouting up in the area in the past few days because of a combination of weather conditions, the first being the current ground moisture in the state.

Maryland is in a D0 drought, Zubrick said, which is the first and lowest drought category and is categorized by short-term dryness.

"It's not critical, but it's currently abnormally dry," Zubrick said.

Warm temperatures and below average rainfall in March, coupled with low amounts of snowfall in the winter, have led to dead leaves and dried out grass and branches on the ground, he said.

Brush fires occur more commonly when the relative humidity is less than 30 percent and wind speeds get up to 20 or 25 miles per hour, something that has occurred in Maryland over the last few days, Zubrick said.

The stronger the wind, the farther embers from a fire can travel, he said, making it harder for firefighters to control and contain.

"The embers from the flames can be blown away and start new fires," Zubrick said. "It's a self-propagating system."

In light of the weather conditions, people need to be extremely careful with cigarettes and other items that can start a fire, according to Deputy State Fire Marshall Bruce Bouch.

He said the remains of smoking materials in dry conditions have caused a recent increase of fires around homes and buildings that have damaged porches and decks as well as the buildings themselves.

When smoking materials that haven't been fully put out are tossed into mulch or dry vegetation, a brush fire can start and spread quickly in low humidity conditions, Bouch said.

The same result can occur from parking a car on dry vegetation if a warm exhaust system comes into contact with it, he said.

"Often times these fires are started by improperly disposed smoking materials," Bouch said. "They can be caused by thunderstorms or lightning, too, but generally your cases are man-made so people just need to be careful and protect their homes and themselves."

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