Time of year to be aware of fire danger outdoors

The green of spring is coming — but not quickly enough just yet to prevent a thunderstorm, a carelessly flicked cigarette or sparks from a metal chain dragging behind a truck from potentially setting the fields or woodlands aflame.

At this time of year, perhaps more than any other, the public needs to be aware of how easily fire can take off in the brown, exposed grasses and shed leaves of last year, before new growth can pump enough moisture into the landscape to hold the flames at bay.

It’s why the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and others on this, Wildfire Prevention Week, have asked residents to be extra careful about outdoor burning or other activities that might get out of control in such conditions.

“Michigan typically experiences some of its higher fire conditions during the spring,” said Bryce Avery, DNR fire prevention specialist. “The dead grass and leaves from last year dry very quickly as days become longer, temperatures begin to rise, and humidity levels are often at their lowest points. Breezy conditions increase the danger, but even on calm days, one ember landing in some dead grass is enough to start a wildfire.”

As the weather gets warmer and the snow disappears, it’s only natural to want to clean up yards. Having an early campfire while nights remain cold can be tempting as well.

But best to resist the urge to burn, or better to call the local DNR office about current conditions and regulations before setting up that fire. Historically, debris burning has been the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Michigan, according to the DNR.

Burn permits are required prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan when the ground is not snow-covered. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by going to www.michigan.gov/burnpermit or by calling 866-922-2876.

Other forms of disposal beyond burning might be better options.

“To dispose of yard waste, consider composting, but if you are planning on burning yard debris, your first step should be to check if the DNR is issuing burn permits in your area,” Avery said.

But if hell-bent on burning, some recommendations from the DNR to keep that yard fire from escaping from your control and property:

— Pay attention to the fire danger in your area. Don’t burn debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush and other debris is the main cause of wildfires.

— Clear away flammable material around the fire so it won’t creep into dry vegetation.

— Keep campfires small and do not leave before they are fully extinguished.

— Have a shovel and water available at all times when you are burning. Be sure to douse fires with plenty of water; stir and add more water until everything is wet.

— Do not cover a campfire with soil; it may simply smolder before coming back to life.

— Embers can re-ignite. Make sure they are out completely.

— Consider composting or mulching yard debris rather than burning it.

For more tips in safeguarding your home and property from wildfire risk, go to www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.