March wildfires near triple the monthly average
ANNAPOLIS Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary C. Ronald Franks has announced a statewide ban on open air burning, effective 2 P.M. today, March 31, in all Maryland counties except Garrett County.
Extremely dry conditions, high winds and low relative humidity across the state have led to nearly triple the average number of wildfires statewide for this month, and conditions are not expected to change immediately. The ban will remain in effect until the Maryland Forest Service determines sufficient precipitation has been received to reduce the threat of wildfires statewide.
"We do not make these determinations lightly, and understand this may require some people to adjust their plans, said Secretary Franks. "However, a ban of this magnitude is necessary to protect the lives and property of Maryland citizens, as well as our natural resources."
"By law, this is the only option available to us that will allow for the statewide monitoring and enforcement this very dangerous situation requires," the Secretary continued. "We will be monitoring the situation daily to determine when it is safe to lift these restrictions."
Five Maryland counties Cecil, Frederick, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester already have local restrictions in place, and state officials are working with local jurisdictions to monitor conditions and enforcement. Outdoor fire restrictions are also in place for the entire State of Delaware and several Virginia counties.
The current statute covering actions of this type was enacted in 1989. The provision authorizes the Department, at the recommendation of the Maryland Forest Service, to implement such a ban when landscape and weather conditions warrant.
"By law the statute does ban campfires and charcoal grilling, but does permit the use of propane grills," said State Forester Steve Koehn. "While fines may be imposed for violations, the most important result of a ban of this type is that it communicates to the public the severity of the situation, and the critical need to act responsibly to protect lives, property and our environment."
Maryland Forest Service officials made the recommendation to implement the ban based on the following data:
* Since March 1, the Forest Service has responded to 366 wildfires, near triple the 20-year average of 130 wildfires for the month.
* There has been a corresponding increase in the size of the fires. While fires normally burn less than one acre per fire at this time of year, the average for the past month has been over two acres.
* There has been an increase in the number of National Weather Service (NWS) Red Flag Warning alerts this month for increased fire danger due to low relative humidity, high winds and low fuel moisture content of forest fuels.
* The state has received less than 25% of the average precipitation for March, with much of the state receiving little or no precipitation with the exception of Garrett County.
* The NWS Climate Prediction Center weather outlook for the next 8 to 14 day period calls for continued below normal precipitation.
"DNR's Forest Service has responded to nearly 473 fires since January 1, which have burned a total of more than 5,787 acres across Maryland," said State Fire Supervisor Monte Mitchell. "The last time we saw this level of fire activity during the month of March was two decades ago in 1986 when 355 wildfires occurred."
Authority to effect the ban is granted in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Natural Resources Article, Title 5-720. Authorized agents of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and all police officers that enforce state laws may enforce the restrictions. The fine for a first citation in violating the ban is $125.
Since 1988, the State of Maryland has enacted the full statutory ban in 1988, 1995 and 1999, and the less stringent regulatory ban four times, in 1991, 1998, 2001 and 2002. Historically, restrictions have remained in place from one to eight weeks, with the 1999 ban lasting from August 4 to September 7. It is hoped that the current ban will be of short duration.
More information is available at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/dnrnews/infocus/fire_danger.asp.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 446,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at http://www.dnr.Maryland.gov.