Wildfires: Not in My Backyard!

Posted: April 11, 2011

A new publication in the popular From the Woods series, titled Wildfire, focuses on fire in the Eastern forest. An overview of eastern fires, how to protect your home and property, and the benefits of controlled fires are covered.

Many people are unaware of the potential wildfire risk that exists in their local community. In the coming years invasive insects and disease are expected to attack and kill oak, hemlock, and ash trees, which can lead to increased wildfire risk as dead trees and branches build up in wooded areas. The expansion of communities into natural areas adds to the risk of fires spreading from homes to neighboring forested areas or forest fires endangering people and their homes (which is when they most often make headlines). News reports of intense Western wildfires only add to the confusion and misperceptions about Eastern wildfires.

 A new publication in the popular From the Woods youth series, Wildfire, seeks to educate people about wildfires and controlled burns in the Eastern United States. The four-page booklet discusses the differences between Eastern and Western wildfires; including the time of year they are mostly likely to occur, types of wildfire, and causes. For example, lightning is a common cause of wildfires in western states but accounts for only one percent of fires in Pennsylvania. The majority of Eastern wildfires are caused by humans, with debris burning and arson as the leading culprits.

 From the Woods: Wildfire’s release coincides with Pennsylvania’s peak wildfire season. During the spring and the fall when the leaves are off the trees, the sun and wind dries leaves, twigs, and branches on the forest floor. It is one of two times that humidity within the forest gets low enough to cause us to lose our “asbestos” forest. Spring is the time when many of us go outside to clear brush, leaves, and debris from the yard. Some may wait for a sunny, dry, breezy day to burn the debris. Unfortunately, those are the worst days to burn debris since the flames can quickly spread to dry grass or nearby wooded areas. Homeowners must use extra caution when burning debris to prevent spread and protect their properties. The publication reviews simple steps you can take to protect your home from wildfire risk, not only from your own actions, but also should a larger wildfire occur.

 An important thing to remember is that not all fires are harmful. Trained professionals conduct controlled burns as a tool to restore native landscapes and manage vegetation. Some trees need or benefit from wildfires, for example, oaks have been shown to respond favorably after fires. Purposefully set, managed, controlled burns are a tool of forest management. The publication gives an overview of their use.

 This publication is available from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Publications Distribution Center. Contact them at 814-865-6713, or the booklet can be downloaded for free at

 Ninety-eight percent of wildfires are caused by humans. Doing your part to understand and prevent wildfires is essential to reducing the risk of damage to your home. Additional information on wildfire prevention, safe debris burning, and alternatives to debris burning are available through your local Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry office. To find your local Bureau of Forestry office visit

 The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of free publications, call 800 234 9473 (toll free), send an email to, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, Forest Resources Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and USDA Forest Service, in Partnership with Penn State’s Forest Resource Extension, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.

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