About one-third of Iowa is now in a severe drought and the increasingly dry conditions raise the risk for grass fires. State Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds says rural residents who burn ditches or large piles of debris need to be especially careful.

“I think people underestimate just how dry the conditions are,” Reynolds says. “The other thing we see, as we start to get into the fields in the next month or so, equipment and machinery are another common cause of fires.” Prairie or grass fires are also often ignited by discarded cigarettes.

“We see an awful lot of people who are throwing cigarettes out of their cars and I’ve not seen a car yet that doesn’t come with an ashtray. We would just encourage people who are traveling through our state to put their cigarettes out in their vehicle in the ashtray,” Reynolds says.

A simple spark, combined with the recent low humidity and a little wind, can quickly turn into a large fire. Reynolds says every year, at least a few Iowans are burned or even killed in “controlled burns” that get out of control. “If we could just remind Iowans…if you absolutely have to burn, make sure you have a water source close by and just be cognizant of the conditions when you burn,” Reynolds says.