Wildfire danger not over

Published 9:05 pm Saturday, March 12, 2011

Even though some rain got in the way of beautiful days this week, the Virginia Department of Forestry is encouraging residents not to develop a false sense of security about wildfires.

“The recent rain, while welcome and much-needed, was not enough to lift the region completely out of the wildfire danger,” said Fred Turck, wildfire prevention and education specialist with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Current weather conditions are similar to those that led to 293 wildfires that burned 8,436 acres throughout Virginia in the third week of February, Turck said.

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“A nice, steady rain every five days or so is just what Smokey would order if he could control that,” Turck added.

The spring wildfire season will let up in May, when grass and other vegetation gets greener, high winds subside and the air becomes more humid.

“From February to May, there is significant wildfire activity in Virginia that doesn’t let up until the green vegetation and rains come,” said John Miller, the forestry department’s director of resource protection. “And even then, the ground has to get good and saturated for the wildfire threat to subside.”

Officials are encouraging Virginians to protect their lives and property by clearing brush near their home and keeping pine needles and other debris off their roofs and out of their gutters.

Also, Virginians should obey the statewide 4 p.m. burn law, which prohibits open-air burning between midnight and 4 p.m. each day, as well as all local restrictions.

More than 95 percent of Virginia’s wildfires are caused by human activity, Turck said. About 30 percent are caused by open burning and 20 percent by arson. Smokers cause about 14 percent of Virginia’s forest fires. The only completely natural cause of a forest fire — lightning — accounts for only about 3 percent of Virginia’s wildfires.