Fire can be a benefit for many farmers and rural property owners. Field fires can replenish nutrients in soils and burn piles can efficiently dispose of brush and tree debris.
Today, local fire departments will respond to an average of 915 brush, grass, and forest fires per day, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Nearly half of these fires are caused by high winds, hot embers, or debris and waste disposal, and many are preventable by planning and monitoring your burn. That is why Grinnell Mutual recommends following these five tips to plan your burn.
1. Check the forecast.
"Less wind is better," said Alan Clark, assistant vice president of Special Investigations at Grinnell Mutual. "People need to be mindful of how much wind there is on the day they want to burn. Wind is one of the biggest factors that causes fires to get out of control."
High winds account for roughly one out of every seven brush, grass, and forest fires in the U.S., according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Never burn during red flag warnings or other wind advisories issued by the National Weather Service.
"Every year we get cases where buildings are destroyed because a brush fire got loose and burned the owner’s buildings or a neighbor’s," said Clark. "It’s not unusual."
2. Call the fire department.
Check with your local fire department to see if you need a burn permit. Also check to see if there are burn bans or other restrictions in effect.
"If you have questions about your burn, contact your local fire chief or fire department before you burn," said Clark.
3. Watch it burn.
"You can’t light it, take off for lunch, and leave it unattended. That’s when it gets loose," said Clark. "You think the fire is about out so you go home. An hour or two later you’re getting a call from the neighbor saying it’s burning out of control.
"You need to monitor what is going on with your fire," said Clark. "Be vigilant. Keep an eye on what’s going on."
"We have cases where property owners will burn off native prairie grasses," said Clark. "People don’t realize how hot a field fire can get and how far it can jump a ditch. It burns very fast."
4. Keep your distance.
"More distance is better. At a minimum you want your fire at least 50 feet from any structure," said Dave Miller, director of Special Investigations at Grinnell Mutual. "If it’s a burn pile, put your burn in a protected area. Control the situation."
"If you are burning off a field, separate the field that’s burning from additional areas you don’t want to burn," said Clark. "Create a fire break. Run a disc through the field to keep the fire from jumping."
5. Extinguish embers.
Hot embers cause nearly one of every six brush, grass, and forest fires. During the fire, flying embers may land beyond the area you want to burn starting new, unintended fires.
After the fire, make sure the fire is out. Use a rake or shovel to check for hot spots and pour water on the coals.
Checking the forecast, watching your fires, and tending to burned areas will help you have a safe and successful burn.