Landowners holding Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land are beginning to burn away the top layer of grass as contracted by the program, raising the concern for brush fires.
Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide said all that has to happen for the yearly disposal of dead grass to burn out of control is for the wind to change or for the ground to be drier than anticipated. He said the people in the Washington Fire District are very good about calling to inform the department about a coming burn. He said some additional precautions can help keep the fire from burning out of control. “There needs to be a buffer strip around the outside of it,” he said. “They need to make sure they have plenty of help and fire extinguishing supplies. If it is extremely windy out, they should avoid burning.”
Through the CRP program in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.
Wide said the area has not had many brush fires so far this season, and credits the moist ground.
Most burns are smaller and fire departments are able to bring them under control quickly, but some of the larger brush fires take several departments to extinguish. There have been instances where a brush fire has jumped a road or caught a structure on fire.
The Washington Fire Department uses two off-road vehicles to help control brush fires and recently purchased an all-terrain vehicle with a small water system to use while fighting brush fires.
“There is a lot of hand work to it too,” Wide said. “A lot of times a fire will get into timberland or something like that. It takes a lot of manpower. You are physically carrying water along with swatters, rakes and shovels. A lot of it is done that way.”
Fire departments have the option if simply imposing a burn ban, but this is usually reserved for times when conditions are very dry and even the slightest flame can result in a large section of ground being set ablaze. Wide does not believe there will be issues this spring because the ground is so moist. He commented this is the first time in several years the area is entering the spring season without being in drought conditions.