Wildfires: what to know
By Michael Carter
Each year in Ohio on average of 1,000 wildfires burn 4,000 to 6,000 acres of forest, crops and grasslands, according to the Ohio Department of National Resources.
In a typical year, it is estimated that more than 15,000 wildfires are encountered statewide. These fires are mostly caused by careless burning.
“I would say that 90 percent of the grass fires we see are caused by people who are open burning,” said Fire Chief Greg Lowe from the Green Springs Rural Volunteer Fire Department in Seneca County. His group of 40 plus volunteers cover 76 square miles of mostly farm land and rural homes.
“People are just not careful enough when they burn and sometimes are not paying attention to their conditions. Things like wind and the amount of rain are key factors, but the bottom line is Ohio does have a ‘No’ open burn law, not a lot of people realize that.”
Wildfire protection in Ohio started in the early 1920s. The Forestry Fire Wardens had the task of organizing fire crews and for keeping tools at the ready. They were also responsible for enforcing burning regulations. Today suppression falls mostly on local fire departments.
“We see our share of field fires,” said Clyde, Ohio Fire Chief Craig Davis of Sandusky County. The Clyde department covers a city of about 6,000 and a total of 71 square miles of farmland, highways, a section of the Ohio Turnpike and riverfront property bordering at the mouth of Sandusky Bay.
“The biggest thing I can say is to just be aware of not only your surroundings but also the weather,” Davis commented.
“It might not be windy when you start your burn, but things can change very quickly. It is also required that anyone who wants to open burn must contact the Ohio EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and also their local fire department.”
Lowe also pointed out, “Farmers can be a great asset to our department as well as a big help to themselves.
“Farmers can keep access to their ponds easily accessible and also may even wish to have a dry hydrant placed on their property.”
A dry fire hydrant is a hydrant that is not pressured. The hydrant is usually made of PVC pipe that is bore underground and resurfaced into a water source. Water is then obtained from the hydrant by suctioning the water out of the source.
“Farmers or anyone who has a pond can greatly assist their local departments by allowing dry hydrants on their property,” added Lowe.
A target distance of one dry hydrant every 3 square miles is desired. This produces a travel time of about six minutes between the water source and the fire, assuming an average safe constant speed for a loaded truck of 35 miles per hour, according to a report in Fire House Magazine.
Generally, the cost of installation of a dry hydrant is between $500 and $750, but departments which determine the need for a hydrant at a specific location may install it at no cost to a land owner. Most rural departments have at least one dry hydrant within their district and most have several.
Dry hydrants not only provide a water source for rural fire departments — but are considered an alternative water supply under the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule. That schedule is used in establishing ISO ratings for communities, which directly affect property insurance rates. The dry hydrant must meet ISO specifications, however.
Bloom Township Trustee and retired Fire Chief Joe Shook also farms and has seen first-hand the connection between farming and field fires.
Shook, who was Bloom Township Volunteer Fire Chief on the border of Seneca and Crawford counties from 1975–85, keeps fire extinguishers on all his farming equipment.
“I have two to three extinguishers on all my combines and trucks,” he said. “I have seen farmers start their own fields on fire with combines due to faulty wheel bearings and things like that. My advice to farmers is to make sure their equipment is always in good working order.”
Technology has also changed the way field fires are now handled with new ideas and improvements coming up each year.
“We have two field-fire trucks that are equipped with spray nozzles on the front of them to better fight these types of fires and to better protect our firemen,” according to Lowe.
Field or grass fires typically have been fought by fire personnel getting up close and personal with these fires.
They would use water mainly but also “swatter” or “paddles” to help mat down the flames. They would sometimes dig up unburned land, soil or crops in front of the burning fire to take away its fuel source.
“We have asked farmers to disk up part of a field in front of a moving fire to stop its growth by taking away its fuel,” Lowe pointed out about his district. “We obviously make sure they are far enough in front of the fire to be safe but we have used this technique before with very good success,” he added.
In the Clyde Fire Department service area, they are experimenting with leaf blowers on smaller fires and trying to blow the fire back to the burnt portion of the field also taking its fuel source away.
“We heard about this technique and have purchased a few blowers and have trained with them but have yet to use it on a live fire,” said Davis.
Shook also advised, “With this summer being so dry, I can’t stress enough on just using common sense.
“It only takes a second to start these fires, and someone could lose a lot of crops and money not to mention a life,” he added.