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Fire Danger Rating System

‘Only you can prevent forest fires’

Smokey the Bear ‘Fire Danger’ sign at ANF headquarters along Rt. 62.

This is the first and second in a series of stories presenting the danger of wildfires and ways to practice safe outdoor burning and wildfire prevention.

The articles came as the result of a meeting with Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Fire Forester Jay Lindemuth (Bureau of Forestry, Cornplanter Forest District 14).

Lindemuth believes this is important information to present to the public in order to help prevent wildfires from occurring this season.

Remember to check the fire danger meter level before burning and always stay with your fire; no fire should be left unattended by an adult. Keep in mind that the only time burning is recommended is when the fire danger level is low.

Burn smart, burn safe, and remember that “only you can prevent wildfires.”

Every day, hundreds drive past the fire danger sign at the Allegheny National Forest headquarters on Market Street.

But what does that rating actually mean?

The sign is part of the National Fire Danger Rating System used to communicate current and forecasted fire danger in the area.

Fire danger is the risk of initiation, spread, and difficulty of control of wildfires.

Fire danger is assessed through the use of weather data collected from remote automated weather stations. The level of danger is then communicated to the public through Smokey Bear signs.

So, what do the different levels mean? When should you burn and when shouldn’t you?

At a low (green) level, there are favorable burning conditions present. Wildfire ignitions are unlikely. Furthermore, weather and fuel conditions will lead to a slow fire spread, low intensity, and relatively easy control if a wildfire were to begin. A little spotting is expected at this level. Outdoor burning is safest at this level, but always take precautions and follow protocol for safe outdoor burning.

When a moderate (blue) level is displayed, cautious burning conditions are present. Flame’s length and rate of speed are expected to be moderate and there is little danger of spotting. Wildfires may be expected and will ignite and spread more easily and intensely than at a low (green) level. Wildfires started in moderate (blue) conditions are typically not difficult to contain. Outdoor burning, however, should be restricted to early morning and late evening.

When a high (yellow) level is displayed, dangerous conditions are present. At this level, wildfires ignite easily and spread rapidly. They are also more difficult to control under windy conditions present at this level. Unattended brush and campfire are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is expected. Outdoor burning is strongly discouraged no matter the time of day.

When a very high (orange) level is displayed, volatile burning conditions are in the area. Wildfires not only ignite more easily but with greater intensity and at a more rapid rate than at lower levels. Fires at this level start easily from all accidental causes. Fires that are burning in light fuels are expected to develop high-intensity characteristics such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when burning in heavier fuels. Wildfires at this level are also extremely difficult to control. No outdoor burning should take place when this level is displayed.

When an extreme (red) level is displayed, extreme outdoor burning conditions exist. Extreme and erratic fire behavior is expected at this level. Wildfires start and spread with ease and have the potential to become a large scale wildfire quickly. Again, at this level, no outdoor burning should take place.

Finally, a red flag warning. A red flag warning indicates a short term and temporary warning that indicates the presence of a dangerous combination of conditions. These conditions include temperature, wind, relative humidity, fuel or drought conditions. These conditions can contribute to new or rapidly spreading fires. This red flag warning can be issued at any Fire Danger level.

Remember, these warnings are here for your safety as well as the community. Always take the necessary and recommended precautions when burning outdoors and always stay with your fire. No outdoor burning should be left unattended at any time.

You can check the fire danger level at http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/forestry/wildlandfire/advisories/index.htm or by calling the DCNR office at (814) 723-0262.

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