The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has expanded a forest fire protection area to include all of Highland County, and Rocky Fork State Park Natural Resources Officer Adam Somerville said that observing the burn season laws and times is more important than ever.
“The Wildfire Protection Area used to be just part of Highland County, mainly the south and east sides,” Somerville said. “But now the entire county is included in this fire protection area.”
State law prohibits open burning during the spring months of March, April and May, and in the fall during October and November between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.
Somerville said doing so is considered a third-degree misdemeanor, and if someone is charged and convicted, they could face up to 60 days in jail.
“The wildland fires we investigate aren’t on the same scale as the ones we saw out west where thousands of acres are involved,” he said. “Typically, here in Ohio we work fires that may be 20 to 50 acres in size, but we have had some bigger ones like the Mitchell Ridge fire in the Pike State Forest a couple of years ago.”
He said because of the expansion of the Wildfire Protection Area, local fire departments have access to resources from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry. According to Somerville, the forestry division can bring in bulldozers that cut a bigger fire line in a single pass than 20 individual firefighters wielding only rakes and shovels.
Originally drawn up in the 1970s, the ODNR’s Forest Fire Protection Plan was designed to foster successful forest management activities. Somerville said because of that, forest cover throughout Ohio has increased and brought with it the need to expand the Wildfire Protection Area to 43 counties.
An ODNR news release said the expansion will also provide more rural fire departments with the ability to call on forestry personnel for assistance when wildfires occur in their areas.
The expanded Wildfire Protection Area contains and land covered by approximately 580 fire departments in the 43-county zone, the news release said, which is a significant increase from the nearly 325 fire departments it included prior to the expansion.
The news release added that all of the fire departments within the Wildfire Protection Area have the opportunity to partner with the ODNR Division of Forestry, and that they may become eligible for grants, equipment assistance programs, enhanced training and mutual aid in the event of a wildfire in their service region.
“This opens up more Highland County fire departments to grants that are available through the division of forestry,” Somerville said. “Fire suppression assistance is now available, as are investigative services for arson or suspicious wildland fires.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.