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Up in smoke

Mar 29, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The police scanner in the Ranger newsroom has been crackling in recent days. It's grass fire season.

We had a long growing season last fall. We had a dry, mild winter. Now we're having a warm, windy spring. Grass and weeds that flourished last year are dry as dust now.

Naturally, landowners want to clear out the overgrowth, and fire is a quick way to do it.

These conditions could collected under the heading "Recipe for Wildfire."

Our volunteer firefighters don't get much rest this time of year. Rarely a day goes by without at least one report of a "controlled burn" getting away from whomever was supposed to be controlling it.

On Wednesday, we published facts and figures showing the coincidence of record high temperatures nearly 20 degrees warmer than our 40-year season average, along with winds approaching hurricane strength.

Fire loves days like these. It can race across a stretch of dry grass in seconds. It can roar along a line of tumbleweeds against a fence right into your back yard. A wind gust can carry, at 50 mph, a burning chunk of flaming material half a mile to your prized row of evergreen trees.

Hence the fire engines. And the property damage. And the danger.

But, as even the professional fire managers in Colorado demonstrated this week, "controlled burn" is an iffy term. And when it's hot and windy, things go from iffy to disastrous in a heartbeat.

Firefighters will race to the scene of a fire whenever and wherever necessary. But they'd rather not. They are ready to fight fire, but they are also ready to help you prevent it.

They will advise you on how to conduct a controlled burn (or try to talk you out of it). They can tell you where to burn, how much to burn, how to set up proper control procedures, and what kind of weather to avoid. Everyone thinks "I can handle it." And still the police radio crackles with fire calls.

We aren't the experts we think we are at handling fire. When in doubt, don't burn. And if you must, be as conservative as possible. There's no going back once the fire starts.

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