|By Lieutenant Scot Best|
|April 20, 2022|
Every year, wildfires burn across the United States, and a growing number of people are living where wildfires are a real risk. In 2018, more than 58,000 fires burned nearly nine million acres across the U.S. More than 25,000 structures were destroyed, including 18,137 residences and 229 commercial structures. California accounted for the highest number of structures lost in one state due to the number of significant fires.
According to the Maryland Department of natural Resources, wildfires are a common occurrence in Maryland. In an average year, the Maryland Forest Service responds to an average of 325 wildfires that burn more than 3,200 acres of forest, brush, and grasses. Fire departments respond to over 5,000 wildfire incidents per year.
While some wildfires in Maryland can burn hundreds or even thousands of acres, most are smaller in size, burning less than 10 acres. Even these smaller wildfires can threaten lives, homes, other structures, and our natural resources. Each year hundreds of homes and structures are threatened, and dozens are damaged or destroyed by wildfires.
Wildfires occur in every month in Maryland, but peak in the spring and fall. During these seasons, the leaves are off the deciduous trees, allowing sunlight and wind to reach the forest floor and dry the forest fuels. The relative humidity of the air is also drier and, combined with a breeze, creates the conditions for wildfires to spread rapidly.
The only natural cause of wildfires is lightning, and this accounts for only 4% of the wildfire ignitions in Maryland. The remaining 96% of wildfires are caused by humans. Maryland’s leading cause of wildfires is improper debris or outdoor burning that ignites an average of 28% of the fires each year. Arson, the second leading cause, accounts for around 23% of ignitions. Other causes include: equipment use, children playing with fire, smoking, campfires, railroads, and other miscellaneous ignitions from sources such as downed power lines, discarded ashes, and fireworks.
A wildfire is an even greater challenge when it threatens homes and other structures. The zone where homes are built in or near the forest is called the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). The number of homes built in the WUI in Maryland has increased dramatically in recent years.
Since 97% of wildfires are caused by people, wildfire ignitions are also more common in these WUI zones. Considering all factors, wildfires can be a significant threat in Maryland. Homes and other structures intermixed with wildland fuels are at risk, and WUI residents need to take actions to protect themselves and their property.
Most wildfires in Maryland are surface fires, which burn fallen leaves, twigs, and debris on the ground. Under this fallen debris is often a layer of partially decomposed leaves and humus, called “duff.” During dry periods, fires can burn underground in this duff layer, and be very difficult to extinguish. These duff fires can burn for weeks, or even months, and cause smoke issues.
The intensity of wildfires increases greatly in areas of dense fine fuels, such as grasses, or dense resinous fuels, such as mountain laurel shrubs or evergreen trees. In these areas, wildfires can spread rapidly and burn with amazing intensity. Maryland rarely experiences active crown fires - wildfires that burn in the tree canopy. However, crown fires can occur in dense stands of evergreen trees during times of very dry and windy weather.
In and around your home:
Creating an emergency plan:
In your community:
During the time a wildfire is in your area:
After a wildfire has been contained: