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Environment & Energy

Pennsylvania Fire Officials Ask People To Be Aware Of Wildfire Risk

Western Wildfires
Julie Jacobson
/
AP
A thick haze hangs over Manhattan, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in New York. Wildfires in the American West, including one burning in Oregon that's currently the largest in the U.S., are creating hazy skies as far away as New York as the massive infernos spew smoke and ash into the air in columns up to six miles high.

With wildfires raging in the western United States, Pennsylvania’s fire officials are asking people to be aware of the risk at home.

About 1,300 fires have been reported in Pennsylvania so far this year, burning around 3,000 acres, according to Mike Kern, Bureau of Forestry’s Division of Forest Fire Protection chief within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

By comparison, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon has burned more than 400,000 acres this summer.

Kern said although Pennsylvania has a different climate from the western US, it’s not immune to a serious wildfire.

“The potential is here, with the wrong weather conditions and extended periods of drought, that we could have some fairly significant wildfires that I think would open a lot of people’s eyes,” Kern told WITF’s Smart Talk on Thursday.

The vast majority of the state’s fires are caused by people, usually burning yard waste or other debris on their property.

“If you do that on the wrong day when it’s hot, dry, and windy, that fire can quickly get out of control and get away from your ability to keep it under control,” Kern said.

Pennsylvania’s fire season typically happens in the spring, after snow melts and exposes dry, dormant plant life.

Kern says fire season could change as climate change makes the weather less predictable.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.