With the arrival of the spring-cleaning season also comes the piles of leaves, branches and other winter debris that has built up in yards, piles that many people will dispose of by burning. But there are considerations to be made before putting a match to the mess.

State forester Joe Fox called on homeowners and landowners to remember use safe burning practices. Controlled burns can be done in a safer manner by strictly following the same protocols successfully used by county crews and other partner agencies, Fox said in a press release.

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson, however, discourages any open burning. In 2013, the Cabot Fire Department responded to 32 outdoor fires involving vegetation and trash — that number is already at 18 in 2014, he said.

State law, through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, discourages open burning as a way to dispose of yard waste but does allow it, Robinson said. Although open burning is allowed, Robinson recommends to instead find recycling opportunities, such as composting yard waste.

Also, Robinson said that open burning is limited to natural vegetation such as leaves, twigs and grass - Cabot follows Arkansas state law that prohibits open burning of trash.

If open burning of yard waste is going to be used, Robinson said to notify the Fire Department, at 843-7671 or Cabot Dispatch at 843-6526, to report your intent before beginning the burn.

What to do instead of burning?

Information from Cabot Public Works is that yard waste such as branches, grass trimmings and leaves are part of the pickup service paid for in fees applied to water bills.

Branches must be less than six feet long and less than six inches in diameter, leaves and grass must be bagged — for pickup, it is placed at curbside on normal trash pickup days. The yard waste truck is one of three making pickups each day, the other two are the household trash and recycling collections; all types of waste set out for collection will not be taken at the same time. Also, large numbers of bags might be collected in increments over a few weeks

Fox, in his press release, noted the increase in fire calls.

"Wildfire activity during March usually outnumbers that of any other month of the year for Arkansas, and we expect this year to be no different," Fox said. But in January and February wildfire activity was significantly greater than the same time last year, with February 2014 showing tripled wildfire statistics – with nearly half the fires on non-forested land," Fox said.

Fox recommends homeowners follow these guides:

•Call the fire department or AFC to see if conditions are suitable and to report your burn; report large controlled burns to the AFC Dispatch Center at 800-830-8015;

•Check the weather: humidity should be more than 30 percent; wind gusts should be below 5 mph;

•Place the fire site away from structures, away from other flammable vegetation (including dead grass and leaves), and away from sloped areas.

•Construct a fire break around the burn site, a fire break should be an area 18 to 24 inches wide scraped down to bare soil;

•Place tools such as rakes, shovels, and a reliable water hose close to the burn site.

•If using a burn barrel, place a heavy, wired screen over the top;

•Never leave open fires unattended.

•Re-check the burn after the fire is extinguished to ensure it does not re-kindle.

Contact the AFC before controlled burns on private land; find AFC contacts online at www.forestry.arkansas.gov.

To report a wildfire, or inquire about wildfire danger, call the AFC Dispatch Center at 1-800-468-8834.

To report an emergency, dial 911.