Crisp evenings and mornings late last week gave way to another round of summer days to begin the official fall season — official at least by the astronomical calendar. The autumnal equinox took place in the wee hours of Monday morning when the Earth’s position in its trajectory around the sun made the golden orb’s path appear to cross the equator in its daily celestial march southward (though, it’s the Earth that does the marching and tilting and turning). It reaches its farthest southerly position, relatively, on the winter solstice — Dec. 21 this year — which heralds the start of winter, astronomically speaking.
While pumpkin spice coffee and a variety of autumn treats have been available since last month, the dazzling fall colors and yards carpeted with red, orange and yellow leaves are still weeks away. However, the fall festivals at farms, churches, parks and other private venues in the region are beginning this weekend. In fact, in today’s paper we have our annual fall festivals special pages in the back of the B section highlighting some of the fun and tasty autumn events planned around the region over the next few months.
But while we dream of pumpkin soup and warm apple cider and corn mazes, it’s worth a thought about what we do with all those colorful, dry leaves that accumulate in the yard.
While some gather up all those leaves and twigs and haul them off to a compost pile or landfill, heaping them up into a pile and setting them ablaze is a time honored tradition. But already this month, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has seen numerous burn injuries around the state as a result of open air burning of yard waste and brush.
“Burning a large pile of brush is not the same as having a small campfire,” State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said in a recent press release. “The scale of these fires means an increased chance of unintentional spread and flashback, which can cause injury or death.”
Geraci asks that people follow the rules and regulations set forth by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources:
• Maintain a 10-foot-wide fire break clear of any flammable materials around the burn pile.
• Keep a shovel and water hose handy to keep the fire contained.
• Keep a close watch over the fire until the last spark is out.
• Follow any local regulations laid down by the county, a municipality or homeowners association.
• Time your burning between 4 p.m. and midnight. If you’re a late season leaf burner and there’s some snow cover, you have more latitude, according to DNR’s regulations.
Along with those regulations, a dose of common sense is also in order. Using an accelerant such as lighter fluid, gasoline or diesel fuel greatly increases the chances of a mishap and the fire getting out of control. And avoid burning on windy days and extended dry periods, like the one we’re currently enjoying.
Things such as household trash, tires, roofing materials and treated lumber are not to be burned in an open fire, according to DNR regulations. More information on those regulations and tips for safely burning your leaf and brush piles can be found at dnr.maryland.gov/forests/Pages/fire/firenotes.aspx.
In the spirit of conservation, and avoiding the fire danger altogether, compost those leaves instead. Rather than play forest land fire ranger, kick back and enjoy that warm apple cider alongside a bowl of pumpkin soup. And check out the bounty of fall events the region has to offer.