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Learn Before You Burn This Spring

Written by National Weather Service

By The National Weather Service – Riverton Office

As temperatures warm and the winter snows melt away, many ranchers and farmers will head outside to begin their annual agricultural burns. 

Each year, as the spring burning season gets into full swing, at least a few of these burns get out of control. Nationwide, an average of 20,000 agricultural fires cause $102 million in direct property loss and result in 25 fatalities each year. So, what can you do to ensure you and your neighbors stay safe this spring? Learn before you burn!

It doesn’t take long once the snow begins to melt for fire danger to rapidly increase, even after a cool and wet winter. The past two mild and wet seasons have literally provided more fuel for the fire, as there are now grasses in places that have not held vegetation in a very long time. These factors make this year an especially dangerous year for wildfire. All it will take is a couple of warm and dry weeks for a wind-whipped fire in quick-burning dormant vegetation to cause a burn to easily become uncontrollable. 

It is common for a calm morning to give way to gusty wind around the midday hours during the spring months. A weather forecast of how and when the wind speed and direction may change during the day can mean the difference between a successful burn and having an animated discussion with your local fire warden.

Nearly every spring, controlled burning impacts state-owned property across the state, typically along and near state highways. Citizens conducting controlled burns are criminally and civilly liable for damages to state property, including right-of-way fencing and other state property, inside the state rights-of-way. Burning near the highway can also cause traffic accidents as heavy smoke can reduce visibility.

Remember, your fire is your responsibility. Try to conduct your burn as safely as possible by following these tips. Call the local National Weather Service for a local weather forecast. Also, call local fire authorities to ensure your burn is legal and inform them of your plans. It is also important to talk to neighbors about your plans, as a matter of safety and courtesy.

Producers should have water, shovels and rakes nearby for all those assisting the burn.

It is advisable to begin your burn where it might be easiest for the fire to get out of control and to try to burn into the wind – this slows the rate of spread and is easier to control. Ensure that someone is with the fire at all times.

Finally, control the fire. Keep piles small, and call 911 if the fire gets out of hand.

Federal and state land management agencies routinely obtain weather forecasts from the National Weather Service. So should you! In fact, landowners, conservation and irrigation districts – even local fire officials – should get the most up-to-date forecast possible before lighting a controlled burn. 

Your local National Weather Service office can be contacted 24 hours a day by phone. The two NWS offices located in Wyoming are in Cheyenne, which can be reached at 800-269-6220, and Riverton, which can be reached at 800-211-1448. These offices are staffed 24 hours a day. 

Area-specific forecasts are also available online at weather.gov/cheyenne and weather.gov/riverton or on your smartphone at mobile.weather.gov

Additionally, the National Weather Service office in Riverton has a web site set up specifically for those who wish to conduct an agricultural burn at weather.gov/riverton/agburning.