Prove your humanity

This story is part of our series, Wild Pennsylvania. Check out all of our stories here

As smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to impact the United States this summer, attention turns to Pennsylvania’s own wildfire activity. 

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Wildfires in the state occur during spring and fall. This spring has seen the spring wildfire season begin earlier and end later than typical, according to Katie Dildine, a Fire Operations Technician with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“Typically, our peak season is in the spring when there are no leaves in the canopy, allowing for the heat of the day to draw out the litter and dust from the fall,” she said. 

With little snowpack this year, Dildine said the leaf litter was still relatively fluffy, letting it dry out quicker than if it had been wet and packed down heavy.

Overall, she said the traditional wildfire season has expanded more into the winter months, and wildfire activity is increasing.

“So looking back over the past 12 years, in the last three, the number of fires has nearly doubled,” she said.  In 2020 alone, 1,507 fires burned across a total of 3,033 acres. 

Lower-intensity fires can have ecological benefits, according to Dildine. 

“The forest floor is kind of like cleaned up, and all the ashes from the burn plant’s leaves and woody debris enrich the soil for new growth,” she said. “And the trees will sprout new leaves at the next growing season, and wildlife will take advantage of the new growth.”

The biggest fires this year

So far, 2023 has seen three significant wildfire incidents. In April, a fire near Sandy Ridge in Centre County burned thousands of acres that started on the 20th and was contained on the 22nd. 

About a month later, another fire happened at the Game Refuge Trail near Shade Mountain that burned 162 acres, according to Dildine. 

The largest fire happened on April 12 in northeastern Pennsylvania. Dubbed the Crystal Lake Fire, it burned well over 4,000 acres of territory, resulting in the temporary closure of the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 

These three fires resulted from an incendiary device, which is any material or substance that can help ignite a fire, like equipment use.

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Humans cause most Pa. fires

According to the DCNR, 99 percent of all wildfires in Pennsylvania are typically caused by human activities, such as burning debris like trash or yard waste.

In light of the growing wildfire threat, Dildine emphasized the importance of raising awareness and promoting fire safety practices. 

“Mother Nature’s going to do what Mother Nature is going to do when it comes to the weather. It’s just getting that outreach to help people understand how they can do things safely when they shouldn’t burn and just go on from there,” she said.

She referenced the Smokey the Bear website for general information about forest fire prevention and encouraged people to visit  www.dcnr.pa.gov/Communities/Wildfire for more information.