Fire in the Woods

Posted: March 25, 2009

Wildfire is not something most Pennsylvanians think about often. Most of the time, Pennsylvania's forests seem comprised of asbestos. However, in the spring a fall, for a few short weeks, Pennsylvania's woodlands are at risk from wildfire. Learn about to become FireWise about your home and woodland setting.

Wildland fire is not something most Pennsylvanians think about often. Out of control forest fires are something that happens somewhere else. We seem to accept, maybe even expect, fires to happen "out west" or "down south." We see the images on the news almost every night in the summer and fall.

Pennsylvania's forests often seem as if they are comprised of asbestos -- most of the time they are hard to burn. However, in the spring and fall for a few short weeks Pennsylvania' woodlands are at risk from wildfire. It is during these times, when our hardwoods don't sport their leafy canopy that the sun warms the fallen leaves, humidity often is low, and winds further dry forest fuels, such as twigs and branches, and could drive fire through the woods.

It is easy to forget how volatile dry forests can become under the right conditions and people, in the spring and fall, often head to the woods for recreation. Or, they decide to clean up around the house and yard by burning grass or other debris. People cause most of Pennsylvania's wildland fires. A careless moment or a poor decision can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

The incident of wildland fires is increasingly threatening homes and people in the state. Over the past few decades, we have seen more homes built in our woodlands. While we seldom lose a home to wildland fire, it does and could happen any time. If you own a home in a woodland setting learn how to protect it.

We encourage you to become FireWise. If your home is in the forest, thin trees around the house so they are scattered and ensure their branches do not touch your structure. Keep your chimney clean and cover it with a screen to contain sparks. Mow your lawn to create a 100 foot wide buffer of green grass. Keep 100 feet of hose ready to wet shrubs and dry grass near your home if fire should occur. Pile wood and keep gasoline and other flammable materials more than 30 feet from the house. Make sure your storage shed is away from the house, especially if it contains flammable materials and equipment. To get fire suppression equipment to your home, keep your drive open and remove overhead branches that might impede access. Most of all avoid open outdoor burning, recycle mulch, and compost when possible.

It is important that everyone assumes responsibility for protecting our forests and homes from wildland fire. When you know the woodland fuels are dry and conditions are right for fire, exercise extra care. Be careful, the home and property you protect may well be your own.

For more information about the FireWise program in Pennsylvania and additional resources for protecting your forest and home, visit the Pennsylvania FireWise Community Program website.

The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management for private landowners. For a list of free publications, call 1-800-235-WISE (toll-free), send e-mail to , or write to: Forest Stewardship Program, Forest Resources Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 320 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and USDA Forest Service, in partnership with the Penn State's Forest Resources Extension, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.

Written by: Laurie Schoonhoven, 814-865-7932,

Contact Information

Allyson Brownlee Muth, Ed.D.
  • Forest Stewardship Program Associate
Phone: 814-865-3208