Think that careless flick of cigarette is harmless? Are you certain those ashes from your grill are fine to put in a paper bag and dropped in your garbage can?
An unusually dry start to April and high winds have made conditions over most of Wisconsin ripe for unintentional fires that can spread rapidly across moisture-less lawns and landscapes.
Chief Jon Cohn said with a few wise decisions, however, residents can combat the conditions and keep fire dangers to a minimum.
"If people are more mindful of what they’re doing and think about the potential consequences, if you eliminate most of the causes, you eliminate most of the threat," Cohn said.
Emergency burning restrictions have been in effect across the state since Friday. The restrictions include the suspension of all Department of Natural Resources burn permits and the prohibition of burning debris piles or using burn barrels.
Smoking a pipe, cigar or cigarette in the outdoors is prohibited, as is throwing any burning material (cigarette, matches or ashes) from a vehicle.
In addition, it is advised to avoid using campfires and even charcoal or propane grills until the conditions change and the emergency burning restrictions are lifted. Cohn suggested people with grill ashes wait a whole week before disposing of them.
According to the DNR's website, 68 of the state’s 72 counties, including Milwaukee, are under "very high" burning / fire conditions, defined as "very dangerous … fires start easily, spread very rapidly, crown and spot. Very difficult to control."
Cohn heard of a couple of exterior residential fires throughout Milwaukee County over the past few days and said it appeared those fires started in mulch surrounding the homes and spread to the buildings' exteriors.
In Greenfield, Cohn said his department responded to a few recent grass and brush fires. Crews also responded to a couple of calls over the weekend coming from residents concerned with their neighbors' burning or grilling habits.
"People's awareness seems to be heightened," Cohn said. "They're calling in things that might be too close to a structure. Until we get some rain and it lowers the risk, people should really limit any type of burning, even grilling."
Cohn isn't particularly concerned with the possibility of a large-scale fire in any of the or parklands, but extra precautions should be taken.
"Typically we don't see that around here because we don't have the underlying brush that is prevalent in other areas of the state, but there's some concern," he said. "I don't think we'll see a ravaging fire like they see out west or even up north, but there is potential."
"Areas around homes are what we're most concerned with. Someone uses a grill or discards a cigarette and it smolders enough to catch someone's house on fire. It may not be large in scope, but it's preventable."