Dry foliage leaves state vulnerable to brush fires

March 13, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

This winter's icy blast has left a potential fire hazard in its wake, officials say: Nature's "canopy" of tree tops that shields the forest floor from the sun's rays has been destroyed, making every dry leaf and branch fuel for wildfires.

Normally the spring canopy keeps the ground in the shade and helps retain moisture and curb brush fires, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials said last week.

Without that shield, leaves and branches dry out faster and can be dangerous fuel for a blaze.

Foresters estimate that up to 40 percent of trees in bands extending through Southern Maryland and across the Eastern Shore are severely damaged, and DNR officials say downed trees often block the path of firefighters trying to make their way to a blaze.

"With all of this fuel laying around, we have the potential for a real California-style wildfire in some areas of Southern Maryland," said a statement by Robert Hartlove, DNR regional fire manager.

Downed trees are blamed for helping to spread a wildfire last week in St. Mary's County that burned 13 acres, DNR officials said.

"A fast-moving forest fire can quickly spread to a house or other building by traveling through brush, dry leaves and other debris," Mr. Hartlove said.

Residents should clear leaves, pine needles and small branches from rain gutters and not stack firewood on a deck or close to a house. People should not try to get rid of the debris by burning it, Mr. Hartlove said, adding that outdoor burning is illegal in some counties.

"With all the storm damage out there, I'm sure we'll be seeing more people wanting to burn the debris from their property, and that's just more chances for a wildfire to get started," he said.

"Nearly all wildfires in Maryland are human-caused and many of them are caused by people not obeying the state burning laws."

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