Chatham Emergency Services Update

By Carey Ruppert - cruppert@chathamems.org
Chief, Skidaway Division

As Smokey Bear Says, Only You Can Prevent Wildland Fires! 

Hot summer weather always increases the risk of fire. When hot weather is accompanied by dry conditions due to limited rainfall, the risk of accidental grass or wildland fires is greatly increased. Although we have had brief periods of rain this summer, overall, vegetation is very dry and there has been an increase in wildland fires throughout Chatham County. Numerous studies have found that 90 percent of wildland fires are started by humans. The goal of this article is to help you help us reduce the number of those fires. 

Since most of us grew up listening to Smokey Bear, we have a basic understanding of what is required for a fire to develop -- oxygen, fuel, and heat. To prevent any fire, including a wildland fire, you must remove at least one of those components. Since at least 16 percent oxygen must be available for a fire to start and our atmosphere contains 21 percent oxygen, that component is readily available. Fuel also is normally abundant with dead plants, dry leaves, pine needles, and dry grass. The only component that we humans have control over is to remove the heat source. Below are some ways that we can remove possible heat sources.

  • Mind Your Butts - When asked how to prevent wildfires, most people immediately will say that you should never throw a lit cigarette or cigar butt on the ground or out of a vehicle. Yet they still do it. Even on Skidaway Island, we have had a number of fires caused by someone carelessly tossing a cigarette or cigar butt. Make sure your cigarettes and cigars are completely extinguished, and dispose of them properly. 

  • Mind Your Grills (or Fire Pits) - Ensure your grills and fire pits are situated away from any structure and are on a fireproof surface. Never overfill them with fuel, and never leave them unattended. Ensure your gas grill is turned off and the gas is secured after use. The fires in charcoal grills and fire pits should be completely extinguished after every use. (Editor’s Note: Please remember, fireplaces that affect the exterior appearance of a home or property, as well as exterior fire pits, rings, masonry grills, and associated integral seating, require approval by The Landings Association’s ARC Committee. For more information, please email cdd@landings.org.) 

  • Mind Your Vehicles - Try to avoid driving through dry grass or brush in a hot car, and never park your vehicle on dry grass, leaves, or pine straw. The exhaust systems on modern vehicles can reach temperatures in excess of 500°F and easily can ignite any fuel in close proximity. 

  • Mind Your Mower - Never add gasoline to a hot lawn mower or edger, as the fumes can be ignited by a hot muffler. Always add fuel and oil to your equipment before you start mowing, or stop, turn it off, and allow it to cool. Also, never leave a hot lawn mower idling over dry vegetation. 

  • Mind Your Lighting - Improperly installed and non-maintained landscape lighting can ignite dry vegetation or debris. Ensure that plants and bushes don’t overgrow your landscape lights, and periodically clear away dry leaves and pine straw. Have plastic or glass covers installed on your lights to protect fixtures and bulbs. Consider installing LED lights, which are energy efficient and produce less heat while illuminated. 

With minimal effort from all, hopefully we can avoid wildland fires. For those of you who wondered about the ignition source for the remaining 10 percent of wildland fires, the answer is lightning. Unfortunately, the solution for that problem is above my pay grade.