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March 29, 2011

MADISON - Wisconsin's peak wildfire season typically occurs just after the snow melts in conjunction with cool, dry and windy weather conditions, and state forestry officials caution that woodstoves, wood-fired outdoor boilers and debris fires cause numerous, and costly, wildfires every year about this time.

"When cleaning out a woodstove or fireplace, it's important to empty ashes in a metal container with a tight fitting lid," says Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. "Let the embers cool by drowning and stirring the ashes with plenty of water and a shovel. Since embers can remain hot for days, avoid disposing ashes in the outdoors unless the ground is completely snow-covered or on bare ground such as a plowed field or tilled garden. Be sure to check for hot glowing embers as you dispose of them."

Outdoor wood boilers are another source of wildfires caused by the sparks from chimney stacks. Wood boilers often throw sparks from the chimney stacks during fueling.

"In dry and windy conditions, these embers and sparks cause nearly 100 wildfires every year and those numbers are increasing as more and more people purchase these units," Koele says.

To help prevent wildfires, people using these units should remove all flammable vegetation surrounding them down to mineral soil. Install a chimney stack screen can help prevent sparks and embers from escaping, and chimney stack height should be sufficient for sparks and embers to cool before landing. People should check with fireplace dealers for stack height recommendations.

"The cost of putting a wildfire out, as a result of improper ash disposal or sparks from chimney stacks, will be billed to the responsible party," Koele says.

This also includes any situation where the responsible party burned debris in a burn barrel, on the ground in a pile, a field, or a warming or cooking fire. If deliberately burned material escapes and starts a wildfire, the responsible party could be cited and liable for all suppression costs.

Not only are can ashes, embers and sparks from outdoor wood boilers and woodstoves cause wildfires, but there are many adverse health effects associated with their smoke. These health effects may include: asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Clean burning woodstoves and boilers that show little or no smoke from the stack can reduce these risks.

Burning permit requirements and the most current fire danger, are avaiable on the DNR website. For more information on the negative health effects associated with woodstoves and outdoor wood boilers visit the outdoor wood boilers page of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website (exit DNR).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Catherine Koele, Wildfire Prevention Specialist: (608) 266-2359 or (608) 219-9075, Gary Bibow, Forestry Law Enforcement Specialist: (608) 339-3066 or (920) 295-2302, or Joseph Hoch, Air Management Specialist: (608) 267-7543

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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