(Neb.)-Hot, Dry Weather Toughens Fire Restrictions, Calls On Community's Vigilance Listen
(CHADRON)-Area temperatures have been reaching 100 degrees+ hot, and despite the rainstorm that moved through the area Monday night, conditions in the northwestern Nebraska Panhandle are quite dry.
Pending official notification, the U.S. Forest Service says the entire Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands is moving into a Stage II Fire Restriction Order due to the extremely dry and hot conditions across the region and the associated threat of wildland fires. The affected areas include the Nebraska and SamuelR.McKelvieNational Forests and the Buffalo Gap, Ft.Pierre, and Oglala National Grasslands, which have already been in Stage I Fire Restrictions since March 28th.
“Public safety is our primary concern for moving into a restriction order,” said Jeff Abegglen, Acting Forest Supervisor. “We need to eliminate as much risk as possible during these extremely dry conditions. We also encourage visitors, as a precaution, to carry a fire extinguisher and a shovel when on public lands, and use caution if discharging firearms,” he said. Fireworks are also always prohibited on National Forests and Grasslands.
Doak Nickerson with the Nebraska Forest Service said it’s important to note that restrictions do not apply to all areas. However, with conditions being as they are, he is encouraging everyone to do their part for the sake of prevention. “Those restrictions do not apply to state or private land,” says Nickerson. “It applies only to the lands owned by the federal government. But those restrictions aren’t a bad idea to follow, quite frankly. They’re for our own safety and for our own good so that we can keep fires to a minimum and so we can save lives and properties.”
The following are prohibited on all lands managed by the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands during the planned Stage II Fire Restriction Order:
--No fires, campfires, charcoal grills or stove fires.
--No smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building.
--No use of chainsaws or other equipment powered by internal combustion engines between 1:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. Extreme caution must be used during acceptable hours, including parking and working in a cleared area.
--No welding or operating acetylene or other torches with open flames.
Nickerson said 1:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. is a safer time of day for doing tasks that might be dangerous during hotter, drier times of day. “That’s the coolest time of day,” he says. “The sun is down, it’s dark, the humidity comes up after the sun goes down. It does what we call recovery, it recovers. But right now, through the heat of the day, our relative humidity with this 100 plus degree heat, has dropped off into the single digits. So, high temperature and low humidity makes for an environment that’s easy for fires to get started.”
Nickerson said there is little that can be done about current conditions, but it’s important that citizens do what they can. We can’t change the weather patterns; we won’t change this heat wave,” said Nickerson. “We won’t change this drought; there’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do is worry about and take control of the things that we can control. And that’s just using good common sense and judgment.”
Nickerson recommends watching internal combustion engines, which includes cars, trucks, tractors, combines, ATVs, golf carts, et cetera, that have been working hard during the day, for half an hour after turning them off for the evening and before leaving them unsupervised. Another tip: “The other thing I can’t emphasize enough on cars and pickups is the catalytic converter, which is underneath on all these new vehicles,” says Nickerson. “It’s a pollution control device that gets extremely hot. The catalytic converters on all those vehicles on days like today scare me to death, they really do, ‘cause they’re hot. And you have to be careful where you park your vehicle. Don’t park it in tall weeds or tall grass. Be really conscious of the vegetation that you park on top of, and if it’s dry grass specifically, and/or wheat stubble or hay or whatever you’re doing out there, get that vehicle out of those places and get it to a bare spot, like a gravel road or a parking lot to park it. ‘Cause the radiating heat coming down off of that catalytic converter can combust the grass underneath your vehicle and then you’ve got a fire going.”
Nickerson says another thing that will help is turning off vehicles when not in drive instead of letting them idle. He also recommends staying on well-traveled roads that don’t have a lot of vegetation on them. He says traveling in areas with tall grass, et cetera, “is like a train wreck waiting to happen” in these dry conditions. Nickerson shares another fire prevention tip: “If you smoke cigarettes or cigars or a pipe, keep it inside the vehicle. Don’t be flicking it out the window going down the highway. Be careful with matches, barbeque grills, all those things that make heat…even candles.”
Nickerson says if conditions continue the way they are, this summer is going to be a tough one. “I’m not the expert on weather history, but I’d wager to say that this June is stacking up with some of the hottest and driest ones we’ve had,” he says. “Only because we haven’t had much for precipitation, and we’ve had above normal record setting heat. The other thing that’s an indicator of that is how far along ag crops are right now. Wheat’s a good example. My understanding is the wheat harvest is way ahead of schedule, and so that’s all driven by heat. Yeah, we’re in for a long, hot, dry summer,” Nickerson says with a chuckle. “It’s still June. I don’t know what July and August will be like, but it could get ugly.”
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