Fire threat climbing in Vernon Hills, Mundelein
A grass fire in Round Lake Beach melted the siding of the house at 443 W. Meadow Green Lane on Thursday, July 12, 2012. Although the fire is under investigation, it was likely caused by sparks from the electrical boxes igniting the dry grass. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
How dry has it been?
According to the National Weather Service, using O’Hare International Airport because it is the region’s official measurement site, the area has had only 50 percent of its normal rainfall since Jan. 1.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the whole state is in a moderate drought, although a number of southern Illinois counties are considered extreme and with exceptional drought conditions. Twenty-six downstate counties have been declared disaster areas and low-interest loans are available to farmers because of the designation.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Mark Ratzer said that a Mundelein recording station showed May with 1.79 inches of rainfall and the average is 4.21. June had 1.56 inches and the average is 4.05. July has had no measurable rainfall in Mundelein and the average is 3.82 inches.
Ratzer said there could be scattered thunderstorms this weekend, “but it’s not going to be a good soaking.”
Next week is forecast to begin in the mid 90s and no rain on the horizon.
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:30AM
Drought conditions have moved a number of fire departments to ban all open burning, including the Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District, Countryside Fire Protection District and North Chicago.
The ban does not affect grilling food, but Chief Paul Maplethorpe of the Round Lake area district has asked residents to be careful when barbecuing outdoors.
“Extreme care should be exercised as sparks or ashes from a grill could cause combustibles in the area to ignite,” he said.
Countryside covers parts of Vernon Hills, Hawthorn Woods, Long Grove, Indian Creek, Diamond Lake, Mundelein and portions of unincorporated Lake County in Fremont and Vernon townships.
The ban covers the majority of the villages of Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Heights, Round Lake Park, as well as a portion of Grayslake and unincorporated Lake County in Avon Township.
Grass, landscaping materials, wetland areas and open fields are extremely dry and vulnerable to quick combustion. Fire departments have been taxed with responding to an increased number of fires in grass, landscaping and open areas caused by fireworks, careless discarding of smoking materials and from open fires that quickly burn out of control.
The authority for the ban comes from a new state law, the Illinois Fire District Act, that allows fire districts to institute burning bans and go onto people’s private property to put out fires. It also allows for fees to be charged for an emergency response due to open burning. The fire district must pass an ordinance, and Maplethorpe said the Round Lake district passed the ordinance July 10.
“But it cannot be a permanent ban,” he said.
The ban supersedes village ordinances, with Maplethorpe noting: “We have six different burn ordinances (in the Round Lake area).”
The unincorporated area does not allow open burning without a permit and those properties within the district have to comply with the ban.
Maplethorpe said his fire crews “have been running our butts off,” recently because of small fires caused by fireworks around the Fourth of July, and now firefighters are also seeing more mulch fires starting because of the careless use of smoking materials.
“We’ve seen a significant rise in mulch fires,” he said. On July 12, fire crews in northwest Lake County chased two or three such fires.
Maplethorpe said his department is experiencing a 213 percent increase in grass fires over this same period in 2011, and a 283 percent increase over 2010.
Another problem he sees on the horizon is that there has been so little rain that even buildings have become dry.
“It’s very easy for windblown embers to ignite combustible siding because it is so dry. The buildings are dry, everything is dry,” he said.
Fire Marshall Mike McNally with the Countryside Fire Protection District said there are a number of departments doing the same thing.
He said high temperatures and low humidity are a perfect recipe for a fast-spreading fire. McNally said backyard fire pits can be very dangerous because if they are not properly extinguished with water, the homeowner could go to bed and good breeze could blow hot ashes onto nearby mulch, grass or decking.
“People need to use common sense,” he said. “Smokers are also asked to use extreme caution when discarding their smoking materials.”