Grass fires increase this time of year

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 3, 2004

During the months of December and January, Covington County fire departments report a drastic increase in reports of grass fires.

According to Hubert Hughes, Andalusia fire chief, the increase is caused by fireworks.

"Firework usage around Christmas plays a lot in the majority of grass fires this time of year," he said. "We can't prove this for a fact, but we know this is the cause."

Hughes said, despite the increase in fires around Christmas and New Years', people are burning safer than they were 10 to 12 years ago.

Hughes also wants to remind the citizens of Andalusia that burning leaves within the city limits is illegal.

"Burning only leaves causes a lot of smoke," he said. "To burn something, the public needs to obtain a permit from the Alabama Forestry Commission."

Greg Taylor, a captain of the Opp Fire Department, believes that people need to watch their grass fires more closely.

"Out of control grass fires are mostly due to people leaving their fires unattended," he said. "The fires need a person watching them. If the wind gets above 10 to 15 miles per hour, the fire can get away. If the person (burning the items) has a water hose in hand and has raked the area around the fire, it should be okay."

After the fire burns down, Captain Taylor says to soak the area with water if there is a doubt that the fire has been extinguished.

Mac Prince, the regional management specialist at the Alabama Forestry Commission, had a lot of offer in the way of safe field burning.

"Fires need three things to burn - fuel, air, and heat," he said.

Prince advises the burner to construct what is known as a fire line.

"Rake the area around where the fire is to be," he said. "This break in burnable materials, called a fire triangle, takes away the fire's fuel."

The next step is to light the fire on the downwind side.

"After the fire burns for a few minutes, light the rest of the area," Prince said.

Prince cautions people to watch out for flying embers.

"The embers can jump and travel a few miles, though that far is rare," he said. "When the humidity gets to 15-20 percent, the embers can light and cause what we call spot fires."

The Alabama Forestry Commission wants to remind the public of the laws concerning burning items.

If you are burning natural items, you must obtain a permit to burn more than one-fourth of an acre.

While many towns do not allows the burning of leaves, which are considered miscellaneous burning items, within city limits, residents in rural areas are permitted to burn them if the burning area is at least 500 feet from a building that is not theirs.

"Many towns will haul away leaves for city residents," said Prince.

Because of the thick smoke produced, which can endanger those on highways, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has set down time restrictions.

"You may not start a leaf fire before 8 a.m. or after 3 p.m., though the fire may burn past 3 p.m.," Prince said.

If you have any questions regarding the burning of leaves or other materials, or you need to obtain a permit, call the Alabama Forestry Commission at 1-800-922-7688.