CROCKETT -- Cooler fall temperatures prompt increased outdoor use by campers, hikers and hunters preparing for upcoming hunting seasons. Thanks to Hurricane Ike, debris removal and clean-up operations also bring increased opportunities for carelessness to cause wildfires across much of East Texas.
The Labor Day holiday weekend traditionally has marked the start of preparations by hunters for the upcoming deer hunting seasons, and dove hunting season has already started, so fields and forests are seeing increased activity.
With vegetation already plentiful in some areas and hurricane debris added to the fuel loading, wildfire safety will become increasingly important as grasses, forest litter and storm debris dry out, says Robert Grisham, regional forester with the Texas Forest Service.
"Heavy accumulations of vegetation, including grasses and storm debris, create a greater risk of dangerous wildfires," said Grisham. "Once vegetation dries out, heavy fuel accumulations increase the risk of larger, more dangerous wildfires that bring greater risks to homes in or adjacent to fields and forests."
The regional forester noted that fire departments often see an increase in accidental fires in the transition period between when all vegetation is green and little or no fire danger is present, and when vegetation is very dry and fire prone.
"When vegetation is green and lush, escaped fires are unlikely, and when conditions are extremely dry, folks know that they have to take extra precautions to keep their fires under control," said Grisham."It's while vegetation (including hurricane debris) is in the process of drying out, though, that people sometimes don't realize vegetation may have gotten drier than they think it has, and they fail to take the precautions necessary to keep their campfire or brush pile burning from spreading into nearby vegetation."
Grisham suggested a number of fire safety tips to minimize wildfire risk and make outdoor activities safer and more enjoyable this fall.
* Check to make sure that there is not a ban on outdoor burning in your area.
* Create wide firebreaks down to bare dirt around hurricane debris and other material to be burned to help keep burning embers or sparks from reaching flammable vegetation.
* Avoid burning household trash, brush piles and other debris during dry, windy days.
* Burn household trash inside a barrel or other receptacle equipped with a metal screen or grill that will help contain sparks and burning embers.
* Build campfires in open, level spots away from trees and overhanging branches. Keep fires small and extinguish them cold to the touch before leaving.