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Forest fire safety tips for homeowners and campers

Updated: Jul. 11, 2016 at 4:42 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Nearly two-thousand people evacuated and three homes destroyed in a 538-acre wildfire in Cold Springs, Colorado. The fire was started by two Vinemont, Alabama men because they didn't completely put their campfire out.

Those Alabama men are booked in a Colorado jail facing fourth-degree arson charges.

In Colorado, arson is knowingly or recklessly starting a fire, and as a result, putting others in danger, and that is exactly what happened there.

A key difference between Colorado law and Alabama law  is that you cannot get charged with arson here for accidentally not completely putting your campfire out.

"In Alabama, that would fall under a negligence charge. The Land Trust of North Alabama preserves and protects land. A way of doing that is by creating rules and regulations," executive director Marie Bostick said.

"If anyone is breaking rules or in a non-designated space for hiking or camping, the Land Trust can bring police out and have folks cited and arrested," Bostick explained.

And people should know even if they're in a designated camping space where it's legal to have a campfire, you're still responsible for whatever happens to those flames when you walk away.

"You need to go to a designated campground such as Monte Sano where they have the facilities ready for camping. So you've got actual fire pits if you will that are made for fire. They help contain the fire," Bostick said. "Always make sure your fire's extinguished before you leave," she continued.

North Alabama is currently in a drought and the dry conditions make it easier for fires to get out of control much faster.

Huntsville Fire Captain Frank McKenzie said if you're putting a campfire out, don't toss the ashes outside right away. This goes for burning out in the county, as well. McKenzie advises folks not to put ashes in a plastic bag.

He recommends putting ashes in a metal container and leaving them for a day or two and then tossing them.

Even if you don't plan on making any fires, your neighbors might. McKenzie said it's best to be proactive and protect your home from fire accidents.

"Keep your leaves away from your house. Wood piles, keep them away from your house. Keep your gutters cleaned out, keep your roof cleaned out.
Things like that. If you were to have some kind of forest fire or woods fire, keeping those items away from your house would help your house from sustaining damage," McKenzie said.

McKenzie said nine out of 10 wood and grass fires are caused by accident, by people, and nine out of 10 of those fires are completely preventable.

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