Fire Marshal offers tips to prevent outdoor and brush fires-learn to conduct open burning safely

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STOW, MAFrom Mass Department of Fire Services: State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “Warmer temperatures are expected this week and firefighters are likely to be busy battling brush fires across the Commonwealth. The warmer weather and environment on the ground create the conditions and fuel for brush fires.” Days of higher temperatures, low humidity, and high winds easily combined with the fuel left bare since the snow has melted create the perfect conditions for brush fires. The February windstorm also added a lot of debris that people may want to burn, but it increases the fuel load for fires that get out of control.

Historically More Brush Fires in April
Historically there are more brush fires in April than any other month. Over a ten-year average, there are 24% more brush fires in April than May, the next busiest month for brush fires.

In 2018, 3,061 brush fires were reported to the Mass. Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS) causing one civilian death, two civilian injuries and two firefighter injuries. This is a 28% drop in brush fires from the 4,233 reported in 2017.Spring weather conditions drive the number of brush fires each year.

On April 22, 2018, at 1:37 p.m., the Tewksbury Fire Department was called out for a brush fire on the backside of Ames Pond. Upon arrival, firefighters found approximately 12 acres on fire. The fire apparently started from a small campfire that was not extinguished properly. Winds picked up in the afternoon and spread embers over the nearby landscape. Firefighters were on scene for almost five hours.

Learn to Conduct Open Burning Safely
Open burning that has gotten out of control starts many of the April brush fires. Open burning season, in communities where it is allowed, ends on May 1. A permit is required from the local fire warden, usually the local fire chief. Burning can only take place when both air quality and fire conditions are acceptable and people may rush to finish up before the season ends, and to burn too much at once. “Weather conditions change rapidly, so watch the wind and be prepared to extinguish your brush pile. A sudden wind change is how most open burning fires get out of control,” said Ostroskey.

State fire wardens determine each day whether conditions are safe for open burning. Weather and air quality can change rapidly, especially in the spring, and fire departments can rescind permits when that happens. Follow local procedures for using the permit in any given day.

Don’t Delay; Call for Help
If the fire should get out of control, call the fire department immediately. “Winds can fan the flames and fire can spread faster than a person can run,” said Ostroskey. “Use the utmost caution to prevent injury and damage to property. We’ve already had several instances of open burning spreading to structures,” he added.

How to Safely Burn Brush

  • Between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. with a permit from the fire warden (usually the fire chief).
  • When air quality is acceptable for burning. Local authorities will call the MassDEP Air Quality Hotline at (800) 882-1497 or visit MassAir Online to find out if it is.
  • On your own property as close as possible to the source of material to be burned, no less than 75 feet away from all dwellings and away from utility lines.
  • Have fire suppression tools handy; keep a fire extinguisher or charged garden hose, and a shovel and a rake close by.
  • An adult constantly monitors the fire. Leaving burning unattended is a reason to revoke burning permits.
  • Use paper and kindling to start a fire and progressively larger pieces of wood. Parts of a leftover Christmas tree may also be used.
  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid to start a fire. The risk of personal injury in these cases is too high.
  • Burn one small pile at a time and slowly add to it. This will help keep the fire from getting out of control.
  • Burn the fire down to the coals, drown them with water, spread them out, and then drown them again.

Open burning is prohibited at all times in these communities: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Medford, New Bedford, Newton, Somerville, Springfield, Waltham, Watertown, West Springfield, Worcester.