With extremely dry conditions throughout central Indiana, what might normally be a small fire can quickly escalate into a big problem as it spreads to mulch, dry grass, and trees.
Jerry Bessler, public information officer for the Washington Township Fire Department in Avon, said they’ve seen an increase in fires.
”I don’t have the exact numbers, but we have seen an increase in our fire loads with dispatching between this year and last year,” Bessler said. “There have been house fires, but a majority of them have been grass and leaves that comes out on the dispatch. A big one is mulch fires that we’ve been seeing an increase in.”
Bessler said there is a common theme on the scene of several of these incidents: cigarette butts.
”From what we can determine, when we’re on the scene putting things out, there are cigarette butts around the mulch,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll get called out for mulch fires just as people are spreading it because of decomposition. When is decomposes, it causes some heat and might catch fire if it’s really dry, but most of these recently have had cigarette butts around them, nearby.”
He said the problem is statewide, and probably further reaching.
”This is the same standard that has been seen everywhere,” Bessler said. “That’s why they have on the big signs on 465 ‘please do not dispose of your tobacco products outside of your vehicle.’”
He said they’ve also had numerous runs based solely on heat-related conditions.
”Just going out in the heat and not being prepared for it,” Bessler said. “If they have to work out in the heat, they need to realize that drinking soda or drinking tea, and things like that is really not the best thing to be drinking. People need to put a lot more water into their bodies to help them stay hydrated. If you know that you’re going to be outside or work outside, it’s best to hydrate the day before, as well as the day of, to get your body prepared for it.”
Bessler said he expects the volume of such runs to continue to increase as the fall school year begins with outdoor sports and the hottest part of the days being in the early evenings. He said he participated in a recent webinar with the Department of Homeland Security in which it was predicted that the drought and heat conditions will continue into the fall.
Stephanie Martindale, PIO for Brownsburg Fire Territory, said they’ve had some grass and mulch fire runs, but “nothing significant.”
”We have been able to maintain those and keep them small,” Martindale said. “Most of those have been from discarded smoking materials. We’re just really trying to remind people that when you’re smoking in your car, don’t toss it out of the window. That’s what happens. It lands in dry grass and it can smolder there. With the dry grass, it can catch fire pretty quickly.”
Martindale said she believes the ban on fireworks really helped in limiting the number of grass fires that they could have seen.
”I think people have been really conscientious about it,” Martindale said. “We have had a lot of calls about using a fire pit and using this and that. They have just been really conscientious about using fire outside to cook and things like that, so they’re not catching their grass on fire.”
The dry conditions do lead to the departments taking some extra precautions when working a house fire.
Martindale issued a reminder for everyone to make sure their smoke alarms are in working order and to keep a close eye on candles and other things that could start a fire.
”If there would be a house fire, we do have to worry about the embers from the house catching the grass on fire and it could spread to catch another house on fire,” she said.
Michael Pruitt, PIO for the Wayne Township Fire Department, said they’ve not really seen an increase in fires for this past six months of this year, compared to last year. He did say, however, that the department “typically has more runs than other metro area” departments.
The Indiana State Department of Agriculture issued a press release last week reminding farmers and residents about the dangers of hay bale and other agriculture-related fires.
Forestry and fire officials throughout the state have responded to a number of hay bale fires during the drought period, according to the release. Officials urge farmers to break hay bales into smaller lots to spread them, leave the hay stacked in fence rows to avoid an excessive heat build-up in barns, keep the bales away from the roads where cigarettes are discarded, and to cover bales with a tarp.
They also have other tips for farmers, including:
- Conduct routine maintenance of all machinery, with special attention to bearings, chains, and other moving parts that create heat and can lead to fire;
- Have fire extinguishers fully charged on hand;
- Keep farm tanks filled with water in order to respond quickly in case of an emergency; and
- Review emergency procedures with family members, employees, and other appropriate personnel.
In addition, the state has launched a website -- www.in.gov/drought -- for updates on the drought conditions.