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Wildfire

A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted wildland fire.

DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry is responsible for protecting the commonwealth’s 17 million acres of public and private wildlands from damage by wildfire. This is accomplished by a combination of:

  • Mitigation
  • Prevention
  • Preparedness
  • Suppression
  • Investigation

The bureau works with forest fire wardens and volunteer fire departments to promote the latest advances in fire prevention and suppression.

Pennsylvania wildland firefighters also assist with wildfire suppression efforts throughout the nation.

Wildfires in Pennsylvania

The greatest danger of wildfires in Pennsylvania occurs during the spring months of March, April, and May, and the autumn months of October and November. In Pennsylvania, 99 percent of all wildfires are caused by people.

Certain conditions are necessary for a wildfire to occur:

  • An available fuel source, such as dried grass or leaves
  • Dry conditions, including low relative humidity
  • An ignition source -- some way for the fire to start

The first two factors occur most frequently in Pennsylvania during the spring and autumn. As the spring sun climbs higher in the sky, days become longer and warmer.

The trees are bare during this time allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor, warming the ground and drying surface fuels.

This, coupled with strong and dry spring winds, leads to a tremendous amount of combustible fuels.

During autumn, leaves turn color and begin to fall, accumulating in a deep, fluffy layer that creates a fire hazard.

The third factor, an ignition source, also frequently occurs during these periods.

Debris Burning Leading Cause of PA Wildfires

One of the major causes of forest fires in Pennsylvania is debris burning. A careless person burning trash or yard waste can be responsible for causing wildfires that burn thousands of acres of valuable Pennsylvania forests.

These fires most frequently start in someone’s backyard and travel through dead grass and leaves into bordering woodlands.

Of course, wildfires can occur during any month and any time of day, destroying woodlands and wildlife habitat; and threatening human lives, homes, and buildings.

While media outlets often give more coverage to devastating western wildfires, most wildfires occur east of the Mississippi River.

Reducing the Risks of Wildfire

Census figures for the first decades of the 21st century show more people in the Northeastern U.S. moving from suburban to rural areas to make their home near or within the forest.

Firefighters call the area where homes and development meet and intermingle with undeveloped forests the “wildland-urban interface.”

More than half of all wildfire ignitions in Pennsylvania occur within the wildland-urban interface.

People moving into the wildland urban interface often make choices that increase the potential for their homes to be destroyed by wildfire. With more people there is increased risk of fires caused by:

  • Debris burning
  • Equipment use
  • Power lines
  • Campfires

Wildfire Prevention

Debris burning is the most common cause of wildfires in Pennsylvania. Check with your township for burn bans and local ordinances on debris burning.

Wildfire prevention is a message brought to people across the country by the well-known figure, Smokey Bear. Detailed information about wildfire prevention as well as materials for kids and educators is on the Smokey Bear website

Wildfire Mitigation

In the wildland-urban interface, it is especially important to properly prepare your residence in the event of a wildfire.

To reduce your risk of a fire igniting within the Home Ignition Zone (the area surrounding your residence), it is recommended that you:

  • Keep the area at 0-5 feet (Immediate Zone) clear of all combustible materials
  • Create breaks within the landscape at 5-30 feet (Intermediate Zone)
  • Include interruptions within the forested landscape at 30-100 feet (Extended Zone)

Please refer to the National Fire Protection Associaiton website for additional information.