Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Fire Season Ends with Number of Wildfires Down Nearly 30 Percent

A mix of snow and rain events combined with Virginia’s 4 p.m. Burn Law led to a 29 percent decrease in wildfires during the state’s spring fire season, which runs from Feb. 15th through April 30th each year, compared to the same period in 2009. There were 400 wildfires during the 75-day spring fire season this year compared to 563 wildfires last spring.

The number of acres burned in the Commonwealth declined 42.5 percent (3,240 in 2010 and 5,635 in 2009). Note: All figures are for privately owned and state lands in Virginia – fire activity on federal land is not included in this report.

“These are significant decreases,” said State Forester of Virginia Carl Garrison. “The precipitation we experienced this spring in conjunction with our decades-old 4 p.m. Burn Law really made a difference this year. While we did experience several large fires in Southwest Virginia, overall the threat to our citizens was diminished.”

Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) personnel protected a total of 411 homes and other structures from the ravages of wildfires this spring. One home was damaged.

In the Southwest Virginia counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Henry, Lee, Russell and Scott, VDOF efforts were supplemented by inmate crews from the following detention facilities: Wise Correctional Unit Camp 18; Appalachian Detention Center; Patrick Henry Correctional Unit, and the Regional Jail located in Duffield. Additional support was provided by personnel from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the US Forest Service Ranger District in Wise.

VDOF Regional Forester Ed Stoots said, “The Corrections and Jail crews did some really good work in some of the state’s most difficult terrain. We owe a debt of gratitude to them as well as to VDOT and the USFS folks for helping us fight some serious wildfires.”

Garrison said, “With just 183 VDOF wildland firefighters to protect nearly 16 million acres (24,531 sq. miles) of forestland, we have to rely on the assistance of a cadre of on-call firefighters across the state as well as the inmate crews in Southwest Virginia. All are well-trained in how to fight such fires. And of course, the support we received from VDOT and the US Forest Service is very much appreciated.”

As in years past, the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Virginia is people burning debris. Other major causes include arson, children, cigarettes tossed from vehicles, power lines, camp fires, and mechanical equipment. These “human activities” account for 97 percent of the wildfires in the state; only about 3 percent are caused by lightning.

VDOF Director of Resource Protection John Miller reminds everyone that just because spring fire season has ended, it doesn’t mean that a wildfire can’t still happen. “Just because you can burn before 4 p.m. doesn’t necessarily mean you should burn. Before starting your fire, check the weather conditions (winds under 15 mph, humidity above 30 percent); prepare the burn site properly; have tools (shovel, rake) and a water supply on hand as well as a fully charged cell phone to be able to call 911 as soon as a fire escapes your control.”