Fire Weather

September’s low humidity feels good, but it can spark fires

Was the Sunday shower of .66 inches of rain enough to extinguish the “critical fire weather conditions” blanketing over half of Maryland?

The rain “wasn’t enough to alleviate the drought conditions,” according to Monte Mitchell, the State Fire Supervisor with the Maryland Fire Service. “Until we start getting in a regular pattern of rainfall,” drought — and with it the danger of wildfires — is here to stay. 

Forty percent of Maryland remains forested, so we’ve got a lot of precious open space that could go up in flames.

The statewide sprinkling, due to a temporary rise in humidity and the arrival of a cold front, was enough to break the streak of most consecutive days without rain this year. September 12 gave us the first drop of water since August 24’s shower.

But it was not the one to two inches of “soaking rain” needed to “bring moisture content of fuels up to make them less conductive to wildfire” according to Heather Sheffield, a meteorologist with the Baltimore Washington Weather Office.

Without that much more rain, the layer of green covering the forest floor could camouflage needles and brush that can ignite wildfires.

“Even though it might look green,” Mitchell warns, the forest “might not be as green as you think.”

The danger of wildfires reached a seasonal high on September 8, when the National Weather Service issued a day-long Red Flag Warning for 13 Maryland counties, including Anne Arundel. The rest of Maryland fell just below the Red Flag criteria. Low relative humidity and low fuel moisture, two of the criteria — along with wind — to determine weather warnings, still leave the state in critical fire weather.

In dry times like these, the Maryland Fire Service keeps a busy schedule, responding to fires “pretty much daily,” says Mitchell. So far in September, dry weather has ignited “17 fires short of 40 acres,” a space less than half the average size of farms in Maryland.

So now’s not the time to be doing open-air burning of any sort. The leading causes of fires are debris burning, followed by arson, equipment use and children playing with fire.

As leaves begin changing their deceiving green to hues of orange, the Maryland Fire Service warns you to douse combustive risks, keeping autumn leaves the only fiery palette painting Maryland.