The National Weather Service has issued a “Red Flag Warning” for all of Maryland, except Garrett County. The warning is issued for strong winds, low relative humidity, and low fuel moistures making conditions ideal for large wildfires to occur in the state.

Since March 1, dry conditions have caused a significant increase in the number of wildfires statewide.

Local volunteer fire departments in Southern Maryland have been responding to wild brush fires nearly everyday during the past two weeks, including a 20-acre brush fire in Calvert County last week.

The Maryland DNR Forest Service has responded to over 160 wildfires burning 363 acres in just the past two weeks. This already exceeds the annual average of 130 fires for the entire month of March. For 2006, the agency has responded to 265 wildfires burning 5,455 acres.

While open-air burning is legal in parts of Maryland, DNR Forest Service officials are strongly encouraging homeowners not to do any outdoor burning until the state receives significant steady rainfall of one inch or more.

Open-air burning is the leading cause of wildfires in Maryland. During dry conditions, embers can easily ignite dry leaves or other forest fuels and start a wildfire. Further restrictions may need to be put in place if the current dry weather pattern continues.

For more information on forest fire protection, please visit the Department of Natural Resources’ website, or contact Monte Mitchell, State Fire Supervisor with the DNR Forest Service at 410-260-8503.