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Our View: March conditions can be favorable for fires, so ‘let’s be careful out there’ | COMMENTARY

A brush fire in Sykesville near the Public Safety Training Center driver training course was spread over approximately 6 acres by the wind.
A brush fire in Sykesville near the Public Safety Training Center driver training course was spread over approximately 6 acres by the wind. (Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department)

While afternoon rain on Tuesday brought some relief, conditions have been favorable for outdoor fires. We have reported on several that have broken out recently around Carroll, none of them particularly serious but troubling nonetheless. The worry is that something like the forest fire that began raging Sunday on South Mountain, not far from Carroll in York County Pennsylvania, could happen here.

Clay Myers, the public information officer with the Gamber & Community Fire Co., said it’s a particularly bad mix of weather conditions we’ve had recently conspiring to make outdoor burning exceedingly risky and something to be avoided. “Right now, the wind and also how dry it is, the humidity is so low, it’s a bad time [for burning],” Myers told us Monday afternoon.

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According to the National Weather Service, the Baltimore-Washington Region was under a Red Flag Warning on Monday. A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or are imminent due to a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and dry fuels, per the weather service. Any fires that develop may quickly get out of control and become difficult to contain and outdoor burning is not recommended. The warning read in part that “explosive wildfire growth is possible in these conditions.”

Last week, a fast-spreading brush fire near the Public Safety Training Center driver training facility in Sykesville was believed to have been started by something as seemingly harmless as a crashed model airplane. The fire required multiple fire companies from Carroll and Howard counties to contain, according to the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department. The brush fire, initially believed to cover about one-half acre, is reported to have been driven by the wind.

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Noting how quickly fires can spread with low humidity and dry conditions in breezy March, the Sykesville fire department sent out several tweets last week warning residents. “We’ve already had a doozy of a brush fire this week here in Sykesville. We’re just fine if we don’t have another. Let’s be careful out there and use common sense.”

Westminster also had a shed fire last week that came dangerously close to spreading into nearby woods.

And the Gamber fire company, amid a busy Saturday, responded to two unrelated, though close in proximity, fires, one in the woods and one at a barn. A large stack of firewood was reported to be also burning at the woods fire. And, according to the notice of investigation by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the barn fire was accidental and began outside, in front of the building, as a result of outdoor open burning. The fire originated in a burn barrel that quickly spread to nearby combustible materials, then spread to the building because of the wind conditions, according to the notice, which estimated that $100,000 in damage to the barn was caused by the blaze.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone that outdoor burning should only be done on low fire danger days, and only if:

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  • There is a natural or constructed fire break at least 10 feet wide completely around the material to be burned that is free of flammable materials;
  • Adequate personnel and equipment are present to prevent the fire from escaping;
  • At least one responsible person remains at the location of the fire until the last spark is out; and
  • Burning occurs between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight unless the ground is covered with snow.

Enjoy the outdoors, but we urge everyone to heed all advice and, indeed, to “be careful out there.”

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