By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
As the weather warms and potentially drier conditions occur in Nebraska, the danger of wildfires increases. A lack of moisture, high winds and a failure of individuals to exercise caution with regard to the fire danger potential is a combination for disaster and an area of concern.
That’s according to the Nebraska Fire Service, the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD) and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, all of which weighed in with comments this week.
Wildfires are uncontrolled fire in an area of combustible vegetation. The fires generally are in the countryside or a wilderness area, but may occur along roads, in fields and forested areas.
Forest Service wildfire cause statistics indicate most of these fires involve a human factor. The primary cause of wildfires during five of the last six calendar years was debris burning.
State Fire Marshal Jim Heine said there are a few simple steps to be taken to avoid unnecessary damage and fire department responses caused by wildfires.
One is obtaining required permits. Open burning is under a continuous ban in Nebraska unless it has been waived in writing on the prescribed permit form issued by the local fire chief/designee.
Anyone intending to burn when the burning ban has been waived must notify the fire chief of his intention to burn at that time prior to starting the burn.
IVFD Chief Nick Schultz said any open burning outside the city limits requires the approved, signed permit that may be obtained from him or officers Doug Mitchell, Dan Robinson, Brad Wheeler or Kelsey Weiss.
Schultz noted that within the Imperial city limits, there is “no open burning, period.”
Even if someone has a permit, if an open burning gets out of control, Schultz said, the permit holder “may be liable for all costs involved to the surrounding area and the cost of the fire department responding.”
However, he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from calling for a permit or for calling in a fire.
Another step is to avoid burning in windy weather. Don’t throw lit cigarettes on the ground.
Know the risk potential and act accordingly. Daily up-to-date Nebraska Forest Service Fire Danger Map and National Weather Service Fire Weather data are both available on the web to help determine the fire risk potential for specific geographic locations.
Make proper preparations. Heat producing activities such as fire pits, fireworks and use of spark and heat producing tools and equipment can start a wildfire. Take precautions, maintain an adequate water supply and be ready to maintain a fire watch until the risk is over.
And, never leave a fire unattended. Make sure the fire is extinguished before leaving it.
Beau Licking, superintendent of Enders Reservoir for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, said, “We ask that if you have a campfire have it in the metal rings we provide or within a ring of rocks. When you’re done using it make sure it’s completely extinguished.”
Licking said that was the cause of a fire at the lake March 11, when “someone didn’t extinguish their fire. They just left.”
Licking noted that as with an open burn permit holder, a camper is also liable for damages and reimbursement if a fire results from an out-of-control campfire.
Conservationist Andy Keep with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Imperial said that when planning a CRP contract with a producer, a vegetated firebreak such as alfalfa or another green crop could be built in to the contract.
“That is not necessarily to prevent wildfires, but if the landowner wanted to plan a prescribed burn in the future,” he said.