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Dead Trees From Hurricane Irene Could Lead To Wildfires This Spring

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- If you think winter was mild, spring could threaten to heat the state up with wildfires.

Alex DeMetrick reports the danger is higher this year, thanks to Hurricane Irene last year.

Damage from Hurricane Irene was hard to miss last August with homes destroyed.

"All of a sudden, we heard 'Boom,'" said a woman.

And power was knocked out to hundreds of thousands.

"There's no water. There's no light. Everything in the freezer and fridge got whacked out," she said.

But all those trees that were removed were only a fraction of what Irene knocked down in Maryland's woods.

"So there's a lot more fuel available out there in the woods to burn this year than is typical," Kenneth Jolly of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forest Service said.

That ups the risk of wildfires in numbers and size.

Large fires like the one 10 years ago in Dorchester County aren't typical. But dead foliage that's been drying out since last fall will only get drier in the months ahead.

What makes spring peak fire season is weather that is unseasonably mild.

"The sun is coming through the canopies, there's no leaves out, so it warms the forest floor and makes it drier, so the leaves are actually much more susceptible to catching on fire," Jolly explained.

And fire can spread to all those downed limbs and trees, creating hotter, more dangerous fires. Sparks from outdoor burning are a real worry.

"That fire gets away from them and it gets into the woods, and before you know it, you've got a wildfire," Jolly said.

Permits are required for outdoor burning, which come with detailed instructions on how to do it safely.

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