State officials warn against wildfires

Published 10:47 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Forestry officials in the state are reminding Virginia residents to be cautious with outdoor fires and flammable materials to prevent wildfires during the fall season.

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, wildfires are more likely to begin in the spring and fall, when windy weather helps otherwise controlled fires “escape” and begin a wildfire. In addition, dry leaves on the ground create easy fuel for wildfires.

“As humidity levels drop and winds increase this time of year, it doesn’t take long for a fire to escape,” John Miller, director of resource protection for the department, said in a press release.

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B.J. Butler, a VDOF forest technician who works in Suffolk, said residents should be careful of their outdoor fires.

“Once you’re finished, don’t leave it smoldering or smoking,” Butler said of outdoor fires. “Stay with it for a little bit longer after you’re done with it.”

Butler recommended saturating the fire site with water, even after it appears to be out, and never leaving a burning fire unattended.

In addition, Butler said, people should be careful of parking their vehicle near piles of dry leaves, or on dry grass. The undercarriage of a recently driven vehicle is hot enough to ignite a fire on dry foliage, Butler said.

In addition to outside fires, people should take steps to avoid the ashes from a woodstove or fireplace escaping and causing a wildfire.

In 2009, 865 wildfires have burned more than 6,950 acres of privately owned land in the state. In an average year, 1,270 fires burn a total of 10,500 acres.

Forestry department records indicate humans cause more than 95 percent of wildfires, almost all of which are preventable.