By Joe Beck
Fire officials in Shenandoah and Warren counties are among those who were not complaining about the snowfalls of March.
While others shoveled away and gritted their teeth on slippery roads, Shenandoah Chief Gary Yew and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico of Warren County greeted the snow as relief from the threat of wildfires.
Yew said the added moisture from the snow has made "a huge difference" in easing the dryness that fuels wildfires.
"There have been far fewer brush fire and wildfire calls this year than we've had in recent years," he said.
Maiatico said the wet, heavy snow that fell last week and the double-digit accumulations a few weeks ago "provided a little bit of moisture for the fuels we were concerned about."
Yew said those fuels include fallen leaves and grass that often dries out during the wildfire season, which officially begins in mid-February and ends on April 30.
Yew and other fire officials warned in February that lighter than usual snowfall during the winter was creating conditions that led them to worry the 2013 wildfire season would be worse than average.
Yew said that wildfires often start in dried out grassland and spread into forests. The snowfall has "greened up" grasses and made them less flammable as a result, he said.
Maiatico and Yew warned that the arrival of warm weather and winds in April could still quickly dry out forests and turn them into tinderboxes in the next 30 days.
Maiatico said people still need to follow the state law prohibiting burning before 4 p.m.
"We're not out of danger," he said, noting that the snow was lulling some people into complacency about starting fires.
"Our calls for illegal control burns are up because people are burning before 4 p.m.," he said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org