DNR Says Wildfires Increased In Maryland In 2023 Compared To Previous Years.

A report says it was mostly due to the dry weather.

Photo from Md. Department of Natural Resources

Annapolis, Md (KM) A report on wildfires in Maryland has been released by the Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, in 2023, we saw an increase in fires from 2022, mainly because the weather conditions were more conducive to the start and spread of fires,” says Chris Robertson,  the State Fire Supervisor for the Maryland Forest Service.

He says the state experienced dry weather conditions in 2023, which is normally not the case in most years. “Pretty much a wet pattern over the ten years or so, where fires were  not occurring as often,” he says.

According to the report from DNR, there were 199 wildfires last year which burned approximately 4,483 acres. That’s higher than a ten-year average of 127.8 wildfires per year and 2,376 acres being burned.

The cause of most of these fires was debris burning, and arson, DNR says in its report.

The report covers the 3.2 million acres overseen by the Maryland Forest Service.

The largest wildfire last year was in February, 2023 in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where 2,592 acres of marsh land burned in the Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area.  Robertson calls this a marsh fire. “They tend to grow pretty large. Even in normal years, we have large marsh fires. That’s not  really that atypical.,” he says.

The cause of that fire was arson.

There was also a fire in the Soldier’s Delight Natural Environmental Area near Owings Mills which burned  321 acres in April, 2023.

There were no injuries from these fires, and  no significant property damage was reported to the Maryland Forest Service, DNR says in its report.

As a way to help control wildfires, Robertson says the Maryland Forest Service conducts prescribed burns which help  reduce the amount of vegetation that can provide fuel for these fires. “Under carefully watched conditions, we can control the affects of the fire rather than have it occur in the summertime or the time where it can devastate the vegetation and create lots of smoke, “he says.

The Maryland Forest Service says it’s expanded its use of prescribed burns to reduce wildfire risks on lands that are more prone to wildfires.  In 2023, the agency says it partnered with other organizations to do 118 prescribed burns on 9,188 acres.

Robertson says residents who live near wooded areas can take precautions to prevent their homes and property from going up in smoke. “Create what we call defensible space. Make sure that people have nice green grass around their properties,  around their homes,” he says.

Other measures include not stocking firewood near their homes, and cleaning out the eaves and gutters on their houses.

For those going into wooded areas for hiking or camping, Robertson says be careful with fire.   Make sure it’s completely out after cooking or keeping warm.

And if they smoke, “putting their cigarettes and things like that out properly and not discarding them,” he says.

By Kevin McManus