With fall wildfire season underway in North Carolina, Forest Service agencies urge the public to use caution
RALEIGH – With the impending arrival of fall wildfire season, the USDA Forest Service and N.C. Forest Service are reminding the public to exercise caution when engaging in recreational burning.
Peak months for the fall fire season run from October through early December and fires left unattended can get out of hand quickly, becoming wildfires that may threaten lives and property. Escaped fires due to careless backyard burning continue to be the leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina.
“Fall weather and the beautiful changing foliage in North Carolina draws people outdoors to take in activities such as camping, hiking or working in their yards to dispose of leaves and other yard debris,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “When choosing to build a campfire, grill out in your yard or eliminate leaves by burning, it is important that you remain vigilant and safe with any outdoor fire to protect our forests. You are our best defense against wildfires.”
For fiscal year 2021-2022 there were 6,887 wildfires that burned 26,958 acres in North Carolina. Only 1% of those wildfires were directly linked to a natural ignition source such as lightning. The other 99% of wildfires during that span were directly related to human activity. Some of the state’s most intense wildfires during the fall of 2021 were caused by escaped campfires.
In November 2021, the Sauratown Mountain Fire in Stokes County burned more than 40 acres but required 16 days to control and fully contain due to the steep and difficult terrain. Shortly after on Nov. 27, 2021, the Grindstone Fire, the largest wildfire during North Carolina’s 2021 fall wildfire season, ignited at Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry County and eventually burned 1,050 acres. Both incidents were caused by escaped campfires.
For those who choose to burn, the N.C. Forest Service offers the following tips:
- Make sure you have a valid permit. You can obtain a burn permit at any N.C. Forest Service office or authorized permitting agent, or online at https://www.ncforestservice.
- Don’t burn on dry, windy days.
- Keep your fire small, not tall.
- Be sure you are fully prepared before burning. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire. Keep a phone nearby, too.
- Never use kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids to speed up burning.
- Douse burning charcoal briquettes or campfires thoroughly with water. Drown all embers, not just the red ones. When soaked, stir the coals and soak them again. Make sure everything is wet and that embers are cold to the touch. If you do not have water, mix enough dirt or sand with the embers to extinguish the fire, being careful not to bury the fire. Never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area.
- Never leave your fire. Stay with it until it is completely out.
The USDA Forest Service offers the following guidelines for safely extinguishing campfires and helping to prevent wildfires:
- Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.
- Pour lots of water on the fire, drown ALL embers, not just the red ones.
- Pour until the hissing sound stops.
- Stir campfire ashes and embers with a shovel.
- Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers.
- Stir and make sure everything is wet and that embers are cold to the touch.
- If you do not have water, use dirt. Pour dirt or sand on the fire, mixing enough dirt or sand with the embers to extinguish the fire.
- Continue adding or stirring until all remaining material is cool.
- Do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.
“Always exercise caution with any outdoor burning. Even when burn bans are not in effect, weather conditions may not be favorable for outdoor fires,” Troxler said. “Outdoor burning is discouraged during periods of low humidity or high winds.”
Studies have shown that taking these and other measures can reduce the possibility of wildfires. To learn more about fire safety and preventing wildfires and loss of property, visit www.ncforestservice.gov and www.smokeybear.com. For more information and tips to help create a defensible space around your home and protect your property from wildfire, visit www.resistwildfirenc.org.