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"It started with a little burn pile, not more than four feet across, but then the wind came up. An ember flew into adjoining sagebrush and a new fire started, which consumed about an acre of land and several trees and threatened several homes." - Grass Fire Sent Riverton firefighters on WRIR Sunday Afternoon, Buckrail    March 23, 2014

Fire danger increases rapidly in the spring once the snow beings to melt, especially in windy lower elevation spots like Cody, Dubois, Buffalo, Riverton, and Casper.  These conditions often result in several agricultural burns getting out of control year after year.  The National Weather Service in Riverton is advising people to get the most up-to-date weather forecast before conducting agricultural burns - Learn Before You Burn!

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Don't let this happen to you! The Little Horsethief Fire was started inadvertently when a fire in this barrel was left unattended! This mistake cost him $6.3 Million.

Photo: jhnewsandguide.com

It doesn’t take long once the snow begins to melt for fire danger to rapidly increase even after a cool and wet winter. The persistent spring wind only serves to further dry vegetation and literally provides more fuel for the fire. A wind-whipped fire in quick-burning dormant vegetation can cause a burn to easily become uncontrollable. 

It is common for calm morning wind to give way to gusty wind around the midday hours during the spring months. A weather forecast of how and when the wind speed and direction may change during the day can mean the difference between a successful burn and having an animated discussion with your local fire warden.

Federal and state land management agencies routinely obtain weather forecasts from the National Weather Service. So should you!  In fact, landowners, conservation districts -- even local fire officials -- should get the most up-to-date forecast possible before lighting a controlled burn. Your local National Weather Service office can be contacted 24 hours a day by phone. The two NWS offices located in Wyoming are in Cheyenne (1-800-269-6220) and Riverton (1-800-211-1448) and are staffed 24 hours a day. Area-specific forecasts are also available online (weather.gov/cheyenne and weather.gov/riverton) or on your SmartPhone at mobile.weather.gov.

What if your agricultural burn becomes out-of-control and causes property damage? You can imagine damage costs and firefighting costs can quickly escalate when homes are lost, outbuildings torched, and fences damaged. This past year, the U.S. Forest Service billed a Jackson man $6.3 million for the costs of fighting a wildfire he is accused of starting when he burned twigs and paper in a barrel. Yikes! It might have been cheaper to take it to the dump!   

Spring Burning Campaign Infographics
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 Landowners, conservation districts, and others who plan to conduct prescribed burning activities are strongly encouraged to check the latest weather forecast by calling the National Weather Service in Riverton toll-free at 1-800-211-1448. They should inform local government officials of burn plans as well.

Useful Forecast Graphics To Get You Started
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This image shows the expected peak wind gusts over the next 12 hours. Do not burn if wind gusts are expected to be 20mph or more (blue, yellow, or red shades = no burning)

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This image shows the expected peak wind gusts over the 12 hour period ending at the time stated in the header. Do not burn if wind gusts are expected to be 20mph or more (blue, yellow, or red shades = no burning)
Click to enlarge Click Image To Enlarge

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This image shows the expected peak wind gusts over the 12 hour period ending at the time stated in the header. Do not burn if wind gusts are expected to be 20mph or more (blue, yellow, or red shades = no burning)

Click Image To Enlarge

This image shows the expected peak wind gusts over the 12 hour period ending at the time stated in the header. Do not burn if wind gusts are expected to be 20mph or more (blue, yellow, or red shades = no burning)
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This image shows the expected minimum relative humidity today. Avoid burning if the relative humidity is below 20% (red shades = no burning) especially if wind gusts are going to be above 20mph

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This image shows the expected minimum relative humidity tomorrow. Avoid burning if the relative humidity is below 20% (red shades = no burning) especially if wind gusts are going to be above 20mph

 

 

Don't let your property become a statistic!
Agricultural burning is the practice of using fire to reduce or dispose of vegetative debris from an agricultural activity. Some common practices include:

  • field burning large areas of crop residue after harvest to reduce excess plant material, to control crop diseases, weeds or pests, or to maintain crop yields
  • disposing of piles of agricultural debris, such as orchard trees, limbs, or haystacks

  • clearing vegetation out of irrigation ditches and canals

It is clear that agricultural burning has been used for years to perform vital functions, but it can be risky. Here are some tips on how to reduce that risk: 

Tips for Conducting a Safe Burn
 1. Call the National Weather Service any time of the day or night, any day of the week at 800-211-1448. The weather can play a pivotal role in whether your burn is successful or not. Light winds in the morning can become strong in the afternoon at the blink of an eye. We can tell you if that is likely to happen on the day you would like to burn and we can help you find a safer day if necessary.
 2. Call the Local Authorities. By calling the authorities first you ensure that your burn is legal and that it is not taxing resources unnecessarily. The local sheriff and your local fire department do not want to field calls about your burn and have them turn into a false alarm. In addition, you may have to obtain a burning permit.
 3. Talk to your Neighbors. Let them know your plans, as a matter of safety and courtesy.

 4. Establish Firebreaks. Create firebreaks by raking or plowing around the area that you would like to burn. Keep that area free of vegetation and wide enough to protect what you don't want damaged outside the burn area.

 5. Ready Water and Equipment. Have a reliable water source available. Line up your hand tools such as rakes and shovels in advance and have them readily available for all participants.
 6. Plan Before Burning.
  • Begin with the areas that pose the greatest threat of becoming difficult to control. By beginning here, your fire is at its smallest size when it enters the highest fuel loads.
  • Always try and burn into the wind, this slows the rate of spread and makes the fire easier to control

 7. Control the Fire!

  • Stay with the fire at all times. You may be liable for damage caused by your fire.
  • Have plenty of helpers on hand. More people helping = more control
  • Keep debris piles small. Large piles generate enough heat to damage nearby trees, power lines, and structures
  • Do not hesitate to call 911 if the fire gets out of hand. The longer you wait, the bigger the fire will be when help does arrive!
  • When finished, ensure that the fire is completely out. Numerous fires break out each year when smoldering areas are left behind. Make sure that your fire is out cold.
 Remember: Your fire is your responsibility!

 

To many people, burning grass is a tradition, almost a rite of spring. Upon closer examination, however, the reasons for spring grass burning are largely unfounded and rather than being beneficial, grass burning is destructive and dangerous.

Agricultural Burning Myths and Facts:


Myth: It's safe to burn grass as long as there is still some snow on the ground.

Fact: Within hours of snow melting, dead grass becomes flammable, especially if there have been drying winds. Grass fires burn hot and fast and spread quickly around, and even over, patches of snow.

 

Myth: Spring grass burning controls weeds.

Fact: The weeds deposited their seeds into the surrounding soil last fall. Burning creates an ideal bare soil bed for the seeds to germinate.

 

Myth: Spring burning improves the new grass crop.

Fact: Burning actually reduces grass yield 50 to 70 percent.

 

Myth: Burning makes the new grass come in greener.

Fact: The new grass will be the same color whether burning took place or not. It just appears greener due to the contrast against the bare, blackened ground.

 

Myth: I don’t see much wildlife around here so I can burn grass without threatening any animals.

Fact: Burning destroys the habitat of species you don’t normally see such as mice and voles as well as the nests and eggs of certain birds. If the fire gets out of control larger animals can be caught by the flames and many species will lose habitat.

 

Myth: Lost habitat will grow back in a few months and the wildlife will return.

Fact: It may take several years to replace what was lost. Vegetation is often multilayered with higher growth protecting undergrowth. Different species depend on different layers for food or shelter. Loss of the lower layer and its residents will impact species that prey upon those lost species.

 

Myth: Spring burning is the easiest way to get rid of last year’s vegetation.

Fact: Easy perhaps, but not good for the soil. Burning results in most of the old plants’ nutrients going up in smoke or remaining in ash that is washed away. Burning also releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Plowing old plants under, or allowing them to decompose, allows carbon and fertilizing elements to go back into the soil.

 

Myth: It’s pretty safe to burn grass here. There’s a fire hall just down the road.

Fact: If you light a fire, you are responsible for it. If your fire gets out of control you may be liable for the cost of fighting the fire, the destruction of others’ property, and face criminal penalties for violating burning regulations.

 

Monitor our Severe Weather Summary Page for current Fire Weather Warnings, Watches, and Advisories. What's the difference?
Current Weather Story Check the latest Weather Story graphic for an overview of the area forecast.
Spring burning poster Passionate about this topic? Would you like to post a flyer about safe burning practices for your friends and neighbors? Feel free to click on the icon to the left and print a copy of our informational poster!
   A printable brochure with the above information for Fremont County can be found by clicking on the picture to the left. Click here for: Johnson County, Lincoln County, Park CountySublette County Sweetwater County, Teton County, or Washakie County.
  Fremont County Firewise , Natrona County Firewise have a wealth of great information on making your home fire-resistant as well as providing you with many helpful links.
  Want an hour by hour forecast for your specific location? Try our Activity Planner tool to query our forecasts for certain parameters of interest (e.g. Wind Gusts over 25 mph) or you can see all forecast parameters on a graph for the next 48 hours by selecting the "48 Hour Element Meteorogram" below your Activity Planner forecast.

Submit storm reports/images and keep up to date with us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter for a play-by-play of the weather, search #LearnB4UBurn for the latest on the Spring Burning Campaign.


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