GREENFIELD — Have leaves to burn? Experts say that’s one autumn chore it’s OK to put off.
Fire crews battled several field fires Monday that came on the heels of a warning from the National Weather Service, which cautioned residents that burning leaves or trash in the day’s high winds and dry conditions could cause fires to spread rapidly.
Five field fires broke out across the county between 1:30 and 8 p.m., according to police and fire dispatchers.
The warning covered much of northern central Indiana, including Hancock County, and advised residents to avoid burning because gusting wind and dry ground conditions would likely cause fires to spread rapidly.
The red-flag warning, which has been lifted but could be put back into effect this week as winds pick up, was the first of its kind this year, said Tara Dudzik, spokeswoman for the National Weather Service. This type of notice is issued when winds are expected to be higher than 15 mph, humidity level is at 25 percent or less and temperatures drop below 60 degrees, she said.
Monday’s weather conditions fit the bill for all three, leading to a dangerous combination, Dudzik said: Fires that appear to be contained likely won’t stay that way for long as winds kick up embers, which can catch dried grass or fields ablaze.
That’s exactly what happened to Gary Wiley.
The McCordsville resident was trying to burn some trash in his backyard Monday when wind sent the flames whirling, he said. The fire ignited a small storage shed in his backyard and burned a few nearby trees.
Black spots dotted the harvested fields around Wiley’s home Monday, marking where embers had scattered and started to burn the ground.
Wiley said he tried to keep the fire at bay by fetching a bucket of water while a passer-by called 911. But the blaze spread too quickly, he said.
“These things just happen so fast, you just can’t control it,” he added.
The shed was a total loss, but it didn’t house anything of particular value, just some old knickknacks, Wiley said.
“My wife had been wanting me to tear it down for a while, but I hadn’t been planning to do it like this,” he joked.
Fire crews know that during autumn residents look to burn their leaves, but they recommend residents restrict those tasks to calm days because of how quickly wind can kick up and spread burning debris.
Hot ash can travel as far as 30 feet before landing and catching dry grass or fields on fire, leading to multiple fires in the same area, said Melvin Branson, a 40-year veteran of the Buck Creek Township Fire Department.
Wind makes fighting blazes more difficult and dangerous, too, Branson added. Crews have to fight the fire facing the opposite direction of the wind, often in the path of the flames, and work quickly before it spreads, he said.
Many of the departments in the county are equipped with special trucks, called grass trucks, which are used to fight field fires. The vehicles are lighter than traditional fire engines, making it easier to drive through dirt terrain, and can pump water while driving, Branson said.
Blustery weather is expected to continue this week, Dudzik said. Residents should be on the lookout for additional red-flag warnings in the coming days, she said.
Warning are posted at weather.gov and on the Facebook page for the National Weather Service of Indianapolis.
It’s the season for leaf-burning, but fire and rescue crews recommend residents avoid this household chore on blustery days. High winds can kick up burning debris, sending it flying and catching dry grasses and fields ablaze.
When considering burning, experts recommend residents follow these simple tips:
- Save burning for calm days when winds are less than 15 mph.
- Contain the fire as much as possible. Firefighters recommend keeping blazes covered with chicken wire to prevent debris from flying away.
- Call 911 quickly if a fire spreads unexpectedly or gets out of control.
- Keep a water source nearby.
Source: Buck Creek Township Fire Department
Red-flag warnings, which indicate it is unsafe to burn because of high wind and dry conditions, are posted on weather.gov and on the Facebook page for the National Weather Service of Indianapolis.