Wildfire season off to quiet start

Weather conditions have literally dampened the state’s wildfire season since its opening about two weeks ago.

Rain, snow, and ice have left enough moisture on and in the ground to hold the threat of wildfires in check, although much could still change before the season ends April 30.

In the meantime, no open air burning is permitted until after 4 p.m. if the fire is within 300 feet of woodland, brush land or a field containing dry grass or other flammable material. The open burning ban is reinstated each day after midnight.

Joe Lehnen, area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, said the risk of wildfires depends on how quickly surface fuels such as fallen leaves, trees and limbs dry out.

“Right now, the conditions are pretty good,” Lehnen said. “We’ve had adequate moisture since the beginning of fire season. The moisture we’ve had does a good job of keeping the larger fuels very moist.”

High winds Thursday and Friday and rising temperatures that rose above 60 degrees Sunday could quickly raise the fire risk.

“Starting in the first part of next week, we could definitely have a fire somewhere,” Lehnen said.

Gerry Maiatico, fire marshal with the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said firefighters responded to what he called “very small ground cover fires that were very manageable” in the past several days. The fires were started by power lines knocked to the ground.

“We’ve had a good solid 30-plus hours of continuous breezes blowing, so that helps dry out those fuels,” Maiatico said.

Maiatico said the blizzard in late January compacted leaves, which made them harder to burn. But the same wind and snow can knock trees and limbs to the ground. Property owners later clean up by starting fires to dispose of the debris.

Maiatico said unattended fires that quickly spread into brush and trees are a common cause of wildfires.

He urged property owners to observe the ban on fires before 4 p.m. and keep water, rakes and shovels within reach to control any fires that begin to spread beyond a confined area.

“Regardless of ground moisture content, we want to start reminding people when performing open air burning, fire safety is the key in all those processes,” Maiatico said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com