Even with all the wet weather the state has had this winter, wildfires are at the top of the minds of the state Forestry Commission. Scott Hawkins, Information Director with the South Carolina Forestry Division says that although the risk is fairly low because of the weather it’s a good time for awareness of the upcoming wildfire season.
“Because South Carolina’s wildfire season is late winter, early spring, there’s still a lot more time ahead where we could encounter drier weather, higher winds and low relative humidity. Those are the things that make us pay close attention to human activity,” says Hawkins, “and that’s when we see our rates go up for wildfire.”
(Hawkins on Wildfire MP3 2:53)
The facts are that 40 percent of wildfires are caused by debris burning sites such as South Carolina’s worst wildfire that spread through Horry County land destroying 76 homes. Hawkins said there was plenty to learn from that horrific event. “What we’ve learned from last year’s wildfire in Horry County is that as more and more people move into South Carolina from other parts of the country, you have a new population every year of people who may not have any experience with living in the wildland urban interface, as we call it. What that means is that they’ve got, not only to learn about hurricanes safety and the science behind that, they’ve got to learn about forest fires, too.”
With recent rains and the ground good and wet, the staff is taking a “breather” and using the time to better inform us of South Carolina safety hints and regulations regarding debris burns. Commission employees around the state will be distributing informational materials highlighting wildfire dangers, steps to protect homes and businesses, and the elements of safe yard debris burning.
“We are taking a breath of fresh air, and enjoying this wet weather. It’s giving us a chance to rest, regroup, get our equipment ready to roll and our wildland firefighters rested and ready for duty,” says Hawkins.
Here are some safe debris burning tips from the SC Forestry Commission:
• State Law requires the homeowner/landowner to notify the SCFC. Each county has its own toll-free SCFC notification number.
• A clear firebreak must be in place around the burning site. The is a line established by raking all leaves, sticks, pine needles, etc. down to the soil all the way around the perimeter of the fire site. When your fire burns up to this line, it’s automatically extinguished because all of the fuel has been raked away.
•The bigger the burn site, the wider the fire break should be.
•Equipment (rakes, shovels, gloves, etc.) and an ample water supply must be available to keep the fire under control.
•Gather the vegetation you want to burn (trash and construction debris are illegal to burn). Cover it with a tarp and wait for a rainy day. Once the rain stops, it’s a good time to take off the tarp and light the piled debris.
•Stay with the fire until it is completely safe.
•All burning must comply with DHEC regulations and local ordinances.
South Carolina’s wildfire season runs in the later part of the winter through early weeks of spring.