Dry start to spring means increased brush fire risk

BRATTLEBORO — It's been dry and warm for the past couple of weeks around Windham County, and that means an increased risk of brush fires.

April and May are statistically the prime months for brush fires in Vermont, especially in the “pre-green-up” period in the spring, when leaves have not come out on the trees but dead grass and fallen trees and branches from the winter still abound.

Precipitation has been below normal in Windham County so far this year, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y., has been monitoring conditions for Windham County, but as yet, it has not issued what's known as a “red flag warning.” That marks sustained winds of 25 mph or more, relative humidity at or below 30 percent, and rainfall for the previous five days having amounted to less than 0.25 inches.

That said, landowners thinking about burning brush and other debris on their property should contact their local fire warden.

Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi also serves as the town's fire warden. He said it has been an active spring for burn permits.

“We issued 28 permits on Saturday (April 27) alone,” he said.

Bucossi said there have not been any brush fires so far this season, which he credits to favorable weather - and permit holders who abide by the rules.

Fire permits are free, but they are required for open burning within 200 feet of woodland or fields containing dry grass. Only untreated materials such as brush, grass, and natural wood may be burned.

Permits are issued at the discretion of the fire warden, and Bucossi said he has not hesitated to shut off permits when the weather turns dry and windy.

The state Division of Forestry advises that a working hose and a phone should be available before lighting a brush pile, and burn sites should be cleared of flammable vegetation for at least 10 feet from the pile. Fires should be attended at all times, and must be extinguished by dark.

“People are responsible for their fires; that's the bottom line,” said Bucossi.

Bucossi said he was concerned about the long-range forecast for the remainder of this week and early next week. No rain is forecast until May 8 at the earliest.

“The good news is that trees are starting to bud, but if we go that long without rain, that will slow the green-up down,” he said. “All we can do is keep an eye on the weather and be ready.”

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