It’s early spring and the National Weather Service(NWS) has just issued a Red Flag Warning for most of Pennsylvania, but — What is a Red Flag Warning?

Simply put, a red flag warning means the conditions are right for an increased risk of fire danger, be it wildfires, campfires, and even burning in your own backyard.

The NWS issues these warnings when warm temperatures, very low humidities, and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce the risk of spreading fires.

It is urged that you hold off on any burning while the warning is in effect.

Here are a few tips from the NWS during Red Flag Warnings.

  • If you are allowed to burn in your area, all burn barrels must be covered with a weighted metal cover, with holes no larger than 3/4 of an inch.
  •  Do not throw cigarettes or matches out of a moving vehicle. They may ignite dry grass on the side of the road and become a wildfire.
  •  Extinguish all outdoor fires properly. Drown fires with plenty of water and stir to make sure everything is cold to the touch. Dunk charcoal in water until cold. Do not throw live charcoal on the ground and leave it.
  •  Never leave a fire unattended. Sparks or embers can blow into leaves or grass, ignite a fire, and quickly spread.

Red Flag Warnings are usually only issued during the spring and fall. Typically February 15 – April 30 and October 1 – December 15. When warnings are issued, officials know to curtail planned burns and to be on the lookout for wildfires.

Residents can also reach out to local officials as they could put a burn ban in place for your town during these warnings.

How does the NWS decide to issue a Red Flag Warning? Well, here are the conditions they are on the lookout for:

  • Ten-hour fuels of 8% or less. This parameter describes how much water is held by small vegetation such as grass, leaves, and mulch that take only about ten hours to respond to changes in dry/wet conditions.
  • Relative humidity (RH) less than 25% for several hours. RH depicts how much water is in the air, relative to the temperature of the air.
  • Winds 20 feet off the ground of at least 15 mph for several hours.