Recently while driving through Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, I was alarmed to see smoke coming from an abandoned campfire. Hurrying to investigate, we discovered logs piled over smoldering embers. A gusting wind channeled up the mountainside road was acting as a bellows and it was easy to imagine it whipping the coals into a blaze.
The only liquids we had were two drinks just purchased at a convenience store. Pouring them onto the hot spots only created more smoke. My partner climbed down the bank of a nearby creek and refilled the bottles, but the fire would not be subdued. Knowing the weather prediction of sustained high winds, we left to find a place where cell phone reception would permit a call for help.
Thankfully we encountered a local man who promised to return with water and tools to extinguish the threat. I slept better that night because we had acted as any responsible citizen would to stop what could have become a disastrous wild fire. The next day’s newscast reported that a similar situation in the N.C. mountains had not ended as well and hundreds of acres were ablaze.
Last year more than 5.4 million acres were burned in the U.S. due to human behavior. While most of us would never deliberately cause such destruction, there are several ways we might do so unintentionally. One example is the late winter custom of open burning to remove yard debris or clear agricultural lands and help manage wildlife areas. Every year, burning of debris creates 40 percent of the wildfires in our state.
Before you begin any outdoor burning in S.C. you must notify the state Forestry Commission. When burning yard debris outside a town or city limit call a number for the county in which you live. These numbers are listed at www.state.sc.us/forest/fireburn.htm. If you are burning anything else, call the Forestry Commission at 1-800-777-FIRE (3473). You must clear a firebreak around the site and have the ability and resources to keep the fire under control. Never leave your fire unattended until you are certain that it is completely out.
Remember, you are responsible for any fire you start. If it escapes you will be fined and if it damages property you will be held liable. The S.C. Code of Laws also states it is unlawful “to burn household garbage and trash, tires, chemicals, plastics and building materials anywhere in S.C.”
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.