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Before Thursday’s moist conditions, most of Maryland had been experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. Two instances of fields burning Wednesday serve as reminders of the fire risk such conditions encourage.

On Wednesday, two incidents in Baltimore County highlighted the risks of such conditions, when a wild-land fire scorched about 15 acres near Hampstead and a field of dry corn stubble burned in Pikesville.

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Such fields could be an ongoing fire hazard this fall, should rain continue to be infrequent, according to Bruce Bouch, public information officer for the Gamber and Community Fire Company and formerly of the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal.

“Look at these cornfields. Right now so many of them are the standing dry corn, and if you have enough of an ignition source, you could potentially light off a field,” Bouch said in a Thursday interview. “The rain today helped a lot; if we had this yesterday, we wouldn’t have had much of a problem.”

Firefighters wet down hot spots after a fire blackened about an acre of a harvested cornfield in the 3100 block of Old Court Road Wednesday afternoon. User Upload Caption: A aerial view of a cornfield fire being extinguished at 3100 Old Court Road in Pikesville, Maryland on October 2, 2019.
Firefighters wet down hot spots after a fire blackened about an acre of a harvested cornfield in the 3100 block of Old Court Road Wednesday afternoon. User Upload Caption: A aerial view of a cornfield fire being extinguished at 3100 Old Court Road in Pikesville, Maryland on October 2, 2019. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The risk of fire even with summer storms is why there is a moratorium on open burns from July 1 through Sept. 1 every year in Maryland, Bouch said. All it takes is a small stretch of no rain to turn yards a little brown and wild grasses to kindling for the errant spark or cigarette butt flicked from a passing car window, he said.

“Cigarette butts are a big one, because they can maintain heat for a long period of time and if they are in the right atmosphere as well as have the right fuel, such as very dry grass and vegetation, then they have the opportunity to cause a fire to grow and get quickly out of control,” Bouch said. “Especially when a little bit of wind pushes along — it can be very catastrophic.”

No cause has yet been identified for the Wednesday fire near Hampstead, and Bouch noted that natural causes such as lightning can also spark field fires, while some human influences can be more latent than a casually flicked cigarette.

“There’s also the potential of old glass and old bottles. If you have those in the right positioning, just like the old magnifying glass trick,” Bouch said. “The lens takes the light, transfers into a much tighter spot, and in the right conditions, with the right materials that are dry enough, it can cause it to ignite.”

Although the season might grow wetter and some causes of fire are beyond human control, Bouch, an ardent advocate of fire safety, pointed out that it only takes a little effort to mitigate the risk of fire — be it on wild land or in the home.

“It puts the onus on all of us to think of fire safety first. Don’t putt the cigarette butt out the window. If you are going to have a camp fire or a pit fire, check the surrounding area first, make sure you don’t have a potential for it to take off and grow,” he said. “If you have the ability, make sure you have a working hose nearby, or a bucket filled with water so if something does occur, you can react appropriately before it becomes a problem for everyone else.”

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