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Be cautious with campfires during Johnstown’s wildfire season

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It is spring and soon the trees will put their leaves out and even as we speak the grass is getting green. The snow packs are melted and we tend to get some rain through the area. However, spring is still the wildfire season throughout Pennsylvania. The leaf litter on the forest floor is drier than it has been since they fell in the fall. The repeated freezing and thawing over the winter months pushes the water out of the leaves that have fallen and now they are very easy to light on fire.

The need for caution and the danger is evident with the brush fire on Will’s Mountain in neighboring Bedford County near Centerville Township. The fire that started on Saturday, April 19 has been reported to be 50% contained but has gobbled up 800 acres so far. While officials have not yet determined the cause, the fire does put an exclamation point on the danger of wildfire during the spring.

When you head out camping especially in the spring, you need to take proper precautions to prevent wildfire from your activities. There are some basic tips that will keep you and the forest safe.

Build your campfire smartly. Build it in a safe location. You should always use a provided fire ring. Before you start your campfire, check the area to ensure that all flammable materials are well clear of the fire. This includes all extra firewood.

Control your fire. Keep your campfire small. You don’t need a fire 50 feet high. Playing with fires is dangerous and could cause a fire to spread to the environment. Trash should never be burnt in the campfire. Paper that is put into the fire could cause burning ash to rise and land on an ignition point. Be prepared just in case. Have a container nearby with water in it in case the fire gets out of control.

Never leave your campfire unattended. An unattended fire can spread very quickly. Put the fire out before you leave the campsite or before you go to bed. When you are leaving the campsite for good, make sure that the fire is completely out with no signs of smoldering ashes.

Before you leave home, check out the fire danger level for the campground. This can be done in several ways. Check the county Emergency Services website for the county you are headed to. In Cambria County you can follow them on Facebook. Another place to look is on the National Weather Service website. When fire dangers are high, they will put a Fire Weather Watch. One more place to check is the Pennsylvania DCNR State Forest website. Under their wild-land fire section, you can find a current list of advisories and county fire bans in Pennsylvania. There are also links to national fire danger maps. You will also find fire danger boards in all state forest and parks in Pennsylvania as well as near local fire companies.

The last tip is to ask yourself if you really need a campfire. I admit campfires are relaxing, fun and the food tastes great. However, in times when the fire danger is high, using a propane camp stove is a safer way to go. They generally don’t put out embers and when you are finished, you turn it off and it is out.

So get out there and have fun, but be careful with fires. Help save our beautiful forests for more camping, hiking and biking in the Johnstown area.

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