‘This year is kind of an anomaly’
No need to worry about this fall’s wildfire season that arrived in Rappahannock County this week, right? Wrong.
Despite tremendous rainfall this year from Thornton Gap to Castleton, the Charlottesville-based Virginia Department of Forestry is urging caution as the wildfire season gets underway. John Miller, VDOF Resource Protection Division director, agrees that with all the recent rain it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.
“This year is kind of an anomaly,” says Miller. “Everything is very wet right now and the risk of wildfire is low; but all it takes is a few days of dry weather and the risk significantly increases.”
Fall is historically a busy time for brush and wildfires due to the drier weather and the turning of the leaves. With many trees bare, more sunlight and seasonably higher winds will reach the forest floor, further drying out brush, leaves and vegetation. Combined with the lower average humidity in fall, the only missing ingredient to a potentially devastating fire is a single spark.
“Our traditional leaf fall is running late this year and will put a lot of leaves on the ground,” says Fred Turck, VDOF Wildfire Prevention Program manager. “Once they dry out, they become the perfect fuel for a potential fire.”
About 96 percent of wildfires in Virginia are started by humans. Outdoor burning is the leading cause. Since most wildfires are caused by human activity, changes in behavior can help save lives and property.
“Houses have burned down from fires that started when people were burning debris and brush picked up from their yard. The fire started as a controlled burn, and it just got away from them,” Turck says. “So, it is important to be aware of weather conditions and take all the factors into account before burning debris.”
Residents are told to check the weather conditions before burning. If it’s been several days since it’s rained, humidity levels are low and the winds are higher than 10 miles per hour, wait until conditions improve; otherwise, it’s quite likely your fire will become a wildfire.
If a fire escapes your control, call 911 immediately. If a fire does get out of control or is left unattended, that person is financially liable for the cost of suppressing the wildfire as well as any damage that occurs as a result. Depending on the size and complexity of the wildfire, we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.