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Environment & Energy

Officials Warn of High Risk for Wildfires in PA

When you think about wildfires or brush fires, you might think about hot July and August days, but May is actually the most dangerous time for uncontrolled fires in Pennsylvania.

“We don’t have a good green canopy yet, we don’t have grasses in our fields and we don’t have green brush, so just a day or two of sun and wind… can really create problems,” said Terry Brady, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The number of wildfires has spiked this week in the commonwealth. According to Brady, the state went from having 150 wildfires in 2015 heading into this week, but after Monday the number had jumped to more than 500. All 28 fire districts in the state reported at least one fire Monday.

The numbers have not been as drastic in Allegheny County, but Emergency Services Department Chief Alvin Henderson said there is still an elevated risk.

“If we look at what we refer to as ‘fire load’ there is a lot of dry leaves, dry twigs, that are really ripe for the potential to have a brush fire,” Henderson said.

The number of fires always spikes this weekend with the opening of trout fishing season and an increase in weekend cabin owners opening their camps for the summer.

“Things will not get better until we get what we call green-out,” Brady said. “Then it’s almost a mute issue, there is very, very little wildfire activity after the end of May.”

No open fires are allowed in state forests until May 25, and burning of anything but dry wood is prohibited in Allegheny County.

Both Brady and Henderson say the best way to prevent wildfires is to use common sense. Never toss burning tobacco products into anything but a fireproof container, always make sure camp and cooking fires are fully out before walking away, and always be aware of winds when doing anything with an open flame.