PADUCAH — It's been more than three weeks since Paducah has seen measurable rain. And with the hot and dry streak comes the increased risk of fire.
"As the moisture level goes down, the flammability of the vegetation goes up," said Paducah Assistant Fire Chief Jody Burton.
Burton said that can lead to grass fires and brush fires when people toss out their cigarette butts. The Paducah Fire Department has responded to those types of fires periodically.
"Primarily on roadways, grass fires will take place that can be caused by cigarettes. And a lot of times, we'll have mulch catch on fire at building entrances where people discard their cigarettes as they go in the building," said Burton.
Even if people toss their cigarette butts on the pavement, Burton said, "That's still not a good thing to do. They can be blown off the road by passing vehicles. They just need to be disposed of properly."
By that, Burton means either putting cigarette butts in a vehicle's ash tray or in the receptacles at the entrances of buildings.
A grass fire happened earlier this week at the old Farley Elementary School sign. Many of the bricks are charred and the grass along the bottom of the sign is burnt. The Reidland-Farley Fire Department said the fire was caused by a malfunctioning sensor that short-circuited. Although that grass fire was not caused by a cigarette butt, the dry weather can make fires spread more quickly.
Burton said equipment like lawn mowers can also cause fires during hot and dry days. When they backfire, sparks can start a grass fire, so proper maintenance is important.
In addition, dry grass can accumulate in the mower deck and go into the muffler, catching fire and spreading it on a field, according to Millburn Lawn & Landscape. When a lawn mower's metal blades hit a rock, the resulting spark can ignite dry grass as well, says InsureUS. Experts advise people to wet down dried grass or brush before mowing, or avoid mowing altogether during hot, dry and windy days.
Fortunately, Burton said he does not recall any recent fires involving lawn equipment, although they have responded to some in the past.
Burton said another precaution to take during hot and dry days is to make sure the burn pit you use is far away from flammable brush, leaves and grass. Within city limits, residents can only burn firewood, not leaves or trash. They must use a certified burn pit with a spark arrestor. Those who want to clear land, push brush up, then burn it need to get a permit.
"Just to be careful with any kind of ignition source with what they're doing, and so it doesn't spark a fire that area departments have to respond to. And in this heat, it can be hard on the people responding, because they got to wear their protective equipment," said Burton.
Burton added that a firefighter usually wears about 50 pounds of gear.