Summer Brush Fires
Fires are part of the summer experience here in Western Pennsylvania. From May until November, you can see fires set by man throughout the area. Sometimes we have bonfires to celebrate a night of camping, sometimes we’re burning leaves (not in Allegheny county, but Butler and other counties allowing fires on personal property when appropriately contained), and then we have to somehow include Fourth of July fireworks in this mix, although technically those aren’t traditional fires.
What about the other, darker side of summer fires? What seems like fun can quickly get out of hand. On average, 915 brush, grass, and forest fires occur each day in the US. One in five of these fires was intentionally set. Statistics reveal that 35% are in open fields, 16% are in parking areas, and 10% affect one- or two-family homes.
Lightning accounts for 16% of these fires, but smoking materials account for 47%. These fires, when not purposely set, are usually caused by cigarettes or cigars thrown into wood chips or dead vegetation. Fireworks produce about five times the national per day average on the Fourth of July.
Outdoor Fire Safety
When you are outside this summer, remember to be careful about where to throw cigarette and cigars. Be careful when using accelerants in fire pits and grills—adding gasoline or other fire-accelerants seems to work in the movies, but will likely create an explosion larger than you expect. Pouring these accelerants on an already lit fire can cause the fire to spread up the stream of liquid chemicals and onto your clothes or skin, too.
Most importantly, if you are going to burn leaves and other items near your home, be sure to have a water source available (county ordinances require this). Fire can spread faster than you may think, and items like old Christmas trees and cardboard boxes can combine with a fire to produce some very hot “fireballs” of ash that can be carried on the wind to nearby flammable materials.
Preventing fire is the easiest way to keep your family and yourself safe. In the summer, many bonfires start with alcohol and good intentions. If you find yourself entertaining friends and wanting to have a fire, take these precautions: 1) Be sure to set it up in the daytime (before you start drinking); 2) account for anything that may cause the fire to spread; and 3) note a source of nearby water (a hose) that is quickly accessible in the event that the fire does end up growing beyond your expectations.
Henry Duckstein Jr.