Open burning remains a dangerous prospect

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2008

By Staff
It didn’t take long after the lifting of a burning ban in North Carolina for some fires to get out of control.
A debris burn that got out of control scorched approximately 250 acres in Washington County on Sunday, just four days after the state temporarily lifted an outdoor burning ban. On Monday, firefighters with the Bunyan Volunteer Fire Department responded to a much smaller blaze off Terrapin Track Road.
We don’t question Gov. Mike Easley’s decision to lift the ban. He was between a rock and a hard place.
Easley determined that rains across the state were enough to make carefully tended open burning safe, or at least safer. Without lifting the ban, the existing amount of dry forest debris would remain and even grow and become more of a fire threat. Burning it now, after recent rains, would reduce the potential for larger, more intense and harder-to-control fires later in the year, especially during the spring fire season.
Thankfully, no injuries were reported in the Washington County blaze, and only a few people had to leave their homes, according to officials. It could have been far worse.
A second fire burned three acres in the town of Roper.
Statewide, the N.C. Division of Forest Resources reported 322 acres burned on Sunday over 23 sites. Some 56 homes, worth $2.6 million, were protected from fire. The day before, there were 15 fires reported across the state, and the day before that there were 12.
Christopher said the larger Washington County blaze was contained, but it required the use of an airplane and a helicopter to battle the blaze.
The larger fire Sunday was in the unincorporated area of Pea Ridge. It was ignited after a farmer attempted to burn his fields, according to Christopher. A helicopter dumped water on the blaze, as did a single-engine air tanker from Kinston. The tanker made four drops on the fire.
Christopher said one of the factors helping the fire was a breeze coming off nearby Albemarle Sound. The breeze fanned the flames.
The rules on open burning are pretty well known, but some people may need a refresher course.
Regulators instituted the burning ban in mid-October because of a worsening drought that depleted water resources and left the state with a dry landscape. State officials said they will continue to monitor conditions and could reinstate the ban if conditions change. Too many more fires like those Sunday could bring about another ban, and that may not be in the long-term best interests of everyone. Fire has a place, but it needs to be respected.