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A firefighters works to battle back part of a brush fire that impacted a half-acre of land off West Street on March 13. Courtesy Ashaway Fire Department

A rise in the number of brush fires across Rhode Island has led state officials and local fire departments to urge residents to maintain compliance with red flag warnings and avoid open burning on days where the fire danger is high.

Brush fires have been an issue over the past several weeks for many fire departments in southwestern Rhode Island. Firefighters with Westerly, Hope Valley-Wyoming, Richmond-Carolina, Charlestown-Richmond, Dunn’s Corners and Ashaway have all responded to brush fires in their districts over the past three weeks, including a March 11 series of brush fires along Interstate 95 that left a half-acre damaged near Exit 2 and a March 13 fire in Ashaway that spread to a shed.

Rain in the past week has helped to quell the recent rise in calls, officials said, but with the state spending much of the past six months under an emergency drought advisory, the fire dangers are expected to remain very high through most of the spring season.

“The arrival of spring means the weather is warmer, but the danger of brush fires is high,” the Watch Hill Fire Department said in a social media post to raise awareness. “Recently, the risk of forest and brush fires has reached critical levels due to low humidity, lack of rain, strong winds and bright sunshine.”

Across the state, it has been a busy year for those fighting brush fires.

The Rhode Island Department reported that as of March 15, there had already been 26 separate brush fires identified and extinguished across the state. Most were relatively small, but with forests covering 367,000 acres of land in the state, officials said the number of brush fires remains a big concern.

In a press release, the Office of the State Fire Marshal said that with dry, windy conditions, brush fires can spread as fast as 20 to 50 feet per minute.

“This can quickly turn a dangerous situation into a deadly one,” said Jason Gumbley, chief deputy for the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

In the coming weeks, state officials and local fire departments ask that residents be aware of fire danger and follow all state and local regulations. These include receiving a permit from the local fire district and contacting the local fire department before lighting any fires.

“Individuals who cause a brush fire can be held liable for all suppression costs and damages regardless of intent, use or issuance of valid burning permit,” DEM said in a press release. “Remember only you can prevent wildfires.”

For more on fire safety and brush fires, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/forestry/fire-program/homeowners.php.

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