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Drought, winds mean early start to brush fires

The warm weather is encouraging residents to get a jump on spring yard cleanup. For many, the big chore this year is clearing away tree limbs — not only the typical winter debris, but leftovers from the late-October nor’easter. But those planning to burn wood and brush outdoors are going to have to wait.Spring in the north is perceived as a wet time of the year. Yes, the thawing ground is spongy about now, but the Northwest Corner is in a drought and the fire index is high. That, combined with spates of high wind, and those who either don’t know of or disregard the “no fire” warnings, seems to be accountable for a recent rash of brush fires across the region.The spring forest fire season typically runs from mid-March to mid-May. This year’s season is solidly here ahead of schedule. The fire index, which can be low, moderate, high, very high or extreme, is issued daily by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Of late, it has been high, with high-wind episodes a contributing factor.Typically, spring fires are fueled by “forest fuels,” according to the DEEP. These are materials such as grass, leaves, twigs and decaying material in the soil. They dry out when the snow melts, trees are still bare and they are exposed to the warmer spring sunlight. Most of these are “one-hour fuels,” which can be combustible in as little as an hour after rain, if the sun comes out and the wind picks up. At this time of year, most fires are fueled by these surface materials. Trees don’t usually ignite and cause devastating forest fires, but a blaze can spread rapidly and overrun developed areas.Wind is the most critical element, drying out materials quickly, adding fuel and helping to spread a fire.It’s OK to burn uncontaminated wood and brush 3 inches in diameter or less, only after being issued a permit for a specific day by a local burning official, and, only after determining the fire index on that day is below high. Reports are available at www.ct.gov/dep, usually by 7 a.m. Search at the website for “fire danger.”

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