Only you can prevent forest fires

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It’s easy to see the dangers that wildfires continue to present for modern society. The photos and footage from Alberta, Canada, are distressing and terrifying.

A massive fire has spread to more than 600 square miles (Southampton County is 602 square miles) — displacing all 100,000 residents of the city of Fort McMurray — and threatens to move into neighboring Saskatchewan before it finally burns out.

It is estimated that 20 percent of the homes in Fort McMurray have been destroyed by the fire, which they believe could have been started by a lightning strike in a wilderness area before moving into the city that is at the heart of Canada’s oil sands area, home to the world’s third-largest reserves of oil.

Officials say they have no expectation of being able to extinguish the conflagration without significant rainfall and lower temperatures across the affected area.

A lightning strike started started the great fire in the nearby Dismal Swamp in the summer of 2011. That fire, too, burned for more than a month despite the efforts of firefighters and the United States Forest Service, as it was fed by the flammable peat that lies underground. In that case, just as in Canada, officials prayed that rain would help put out the fire.

But, even the passage of Hurricane Irene, which dumped about a foot of rain, failed to put it out completely.

Against the backdrop of these wildfires, some localities — such as Suffolk — have put a burn ban into effect, prohibiting open-air fires of all types in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire during the hot, dry months ahead.

The open-burn ban includes all types of burning, from in a barrel to commercial land-clearing operations. The use of special incineration devises is also included. Failure to comply with the burn ban can result in a fine of up to $2,500 and one year in jail, as well as a bill for extinguishing the fire.

Exception to the ban are made for commercial fire pits, fire bowls and chimneys, which are considered recreational fires under some city codes. Homeowners using those devices, however, are required to use only firewood, to not leave them unattended and to have some sort of extinguisher available at all times when the fires are burning.

As we pray for rain in Alberta — and with the full recognition that not all fires can be avoided — we must all recognition our own responsibility to limit the dangers to which we subject ourselves and our neighbors. And if you’re using one of the aforementioned exceptions, make sure you take the necessary precautions to do so safely.