A dry, windy start to fall was responsible for a higher than normal number of field and woods fires in Fulton County. According to area fire departments, following a few simple rules makes accidental fires easily preventable.
“People don’t realize the power of a little bit of a breeze,” Wauseon Fire Chief Rick Sluder said. “It’s been a busier year this year because it’s been a dry fall.”
City fire crews have tackled about a dozen outdoor fires in the past month. The majority were caused by rural residents who misjudged how vulnerable the material they’re burning is to windy conditions. Embers from what should be a controlled fire can blow easily to a nearby location and ignite another blaze.
“It’s mostly people trying to burn garbage outside of town, and it ended up worse than it should have been,” Sluder said. In some cases, airborne embers have set fire to leftover crop stubble and corn stalks.
Those random fires generally occur in September and October or in early spring. The last outdoor fire city firefighters fought was on Nov. 18.
The City of Wauseon prohibits open burning within its limits including brush. Campfire-type fires are legal in the city, but can be fueled only by seasoned wood or hardwood charcoal. They must be contained within a three-foot radius, and can be no closer than at least 25 to 50 feet from a structure. They also must be constantly monitored.
The rules are only slightly more relaxed in rural Wauseon. Leaves, branches, and brush cannot be burned within 1,000 feet of the city limits, and burning garbage or building materials is illegal. Rural open burns usually require an Environmental Protection Agency permit. And the city fire department requests prior notification when a substantial burn is planned.
Violating the city’s open burn policy is a misdemeanor offense, but Sluder said he’d rather educate citizens about the ordinance than issue citations. He said violations have occurred but there has never been a repeat offender.
“It’s not usually too much of a problem in town,” he said. “Use common sense and don’t let it get bigger than it’s easier to control. It has to be reasonably sized and contained, and be well aware of the wind conditions.”
With the exception of cooking fires and fire pits, Swanton’s ordinance doesn’t permit open burning with 1,000 feet of the village. Deputy Chief Gary Roytek said if an open burn develops into a problem the resident could be cited, although he’s never cited anyone for a smaller fire within the village limits.
Calls about outdoor fires have increased over last fall; village firefighters have had to put out 10 uncontrolled outdoor fires over the last two months. Most occur in fields or woods, the result of careless open burning when embers are carried by the wind and reignite.
“Most people are pretty diligent when they do open burning. Normally, we’re called well after the fact,” Roytek said. “As dry as it’s been, they take off pretty quick. This year, especially the past month, wind and dry conditions have been bad.”
He said fires in woods are harder to contain. “It’s a little more labor intensive, the access is harder, and it takes more resources,” he added.
The most recent uncontrolled fires occurred last week, one near the airport and another on County Road EF.
“Most of the time, people are watching, but they think it’s out and leave it alone. It can make a mess pretty quick,” Roytek said.
However, “In the past five years there’s been a pretty steady decrease on the outdoor fires we do have,” he said.
Most burning complaints the village fire department receives concern garbage. Fire crews carry educational material on their trucks explaining what can and can’t be burned. Roytek said information is also available though the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The Village of Archbold follows Ohio fire restrictions. Only recreational fires are allowed within village limits, but they must remain approximately three feet in diameter and be fueled by solid wood. Residents in country settings may burn agricultural waste such as treetops and brush. Burning food waste, dead animals, and materials containing rubber, grease, asphalt or anything manufactured from petroleum is forbidden.
The village’s two most recent uncontrolled outdoor fires happened in October and two weeks ago. Both started on the edges of woods, and both were kindled by embers carried on the wind from brush and leaf piles. But neither fire caught on a windy day.
Fire Chief Andy Brodbeck said Archbold residents are good about containing controlled fires, and for the most part use common sense. He said he’s never issued a fine.
“I discuss the the situation so people understand the rules. We just tell them to use caution and understand their surroundings before lighting a fire,” he said.
Delta also follows Ohio law. Fire Chief Scott Smith said to his knowledge the village hasn’t had more than normal outdoor fire activity. The latest was a woods fire to the south with an undetermined origin.
No outdoor burning is allowed in the village with the exception of chimneys and fire pits. Legal or not, those fires will be extinguished if they drift onto a neighbor’s property or obscure motorists’ vision.
Smith said he’s never witnessed a property owner refuse to comply with the law. “To be honest, I’ve never seen anybody cited, but it’s an option,” he said.
Outside the village, recreational fires are limited to two feet high and three feet around, and only clean, seasoned wood is permitted. Burning garbage is not allowed, as is burning material brought from another location.
The fire department gets less complaints about illegal or nuisance burning from the country, and only a small percentage overall are generated within the village.
Scott said any time winds are gusting to 15 to 25 miles per hour they will play a role in accidental blazes.
“It’s going to pose a risk of spreading fire. Common sense needs to prevail,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.