The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has declared April 21–27 as Wildfire Prevention Week to increase awareness of outdoor fire hazards.
The DNR encourages people to make a special effort to control their fires during this week and all year long. Minnesota wildland firefighters annually extinguish an average of 1,400 fires that burn 31,000 acres.
“Ninety-eight percent of wildfires in Minnesota are caused by people, and the number one reason is escaped debris-burning fires,” said Larry Himanga, the DNR’s wildfire prevention coordinator.
Most wildfires in Minnesota occur in the spring, between the time when snow melts and vegetation turns green. Spring wildfires normally begin in the southern portion of the state and move northward as the snow disappears.
Although the fire hazard in Minnesota is low, it can quickly change. Visit www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire/firerating_restrictions.html for current statewide fire danger information and burning restrictions.
Instead of burning yard waste, Himanga recommends composting or mulching it. If burning is necessary, landowners should check fire burning restrictions in their area, obtain a burning permit, and be careful with debris fires. Piled debris can hold hot coals for several days to months.
“When you light a fire, you are responsible for keeping it under control and you need to stay with it until it is out,” Himanga said. “If you think your fire is out, check again.”
To learn more about open burning, visit http://www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire/questions.html
The DNR reminds homeowners that burning nonvegetative material or garbage can release cancer-causing toxins into the air. “The toxins in smoke and ash from backyard garbage burning pollute our air, water and soil,” said Mark Rust with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Grazing livestock, vegetable gardens and other food sources absorb the toxins, concentrating the chemical in food and ultimately in our bodies, Rust said. He recommends recycling, composting or safely disposing of trash with a hauler or at a local drop-site to help protect people from unnecessary pollution.
In addition to contaminating food sources, burning illegal materials such as plastic and other household trash endangers firefighters responding to the fire as well as the homeowners igniting the pile. The toxic chemicals released during backyard garbage burning can lead to serious medical conditions, including lung and heart problems.
Burning any material has risks. Wildfires jeopardize public health and safety, destroy homes and property and cost millions of dollars annually to extinguish. The best way to protect lives and property from wildfires is to prevent the fires from occurring.
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