Don’t get burned this fall wildfire season

Fall wildfire season began Saturday and officials are asking citizens to do their part in mitigating the likelihood of wildfires.

Dry fuel, among other factors, can be an issue during fall wildfire season, which ends Nov. 30, according to Andy Pascarella, fire management officer for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

“Dry, dead leaves that accumulate on the forest floor during the fall season provide a source of fuel that allows wildfire to spread,” he stated in an email. “Fall weather patterns include increased wind and lower humidity, conditions that increase the spread of fire.”

Pascarella stated that while wildfires are a concern in the fall, they are more likely to occur in the spring wildfire season, which is Feb. 15-April 30.

He noted that those who enjoy spending time in the two national forests “can do their part to prevent wildfire by ensuring they build safe campfires within designated fire rings, never leave a fire unattended, and make sure their campfire is dead out before leaving.”

The national forests, unlike Shenandoah National Park, offer a unique challenge when it comes to fires due to the fact that private land exists within the forests.

“Wildfires are a concern for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests,” he stated. “Much of the forest is interspersed with private lands where homes and National Forest lands mix. This wildland-urban interface is a higher fire-risk area. Homeowners and communities can help firefighters by creating defensible space around homes and structures, following local burn laws, and being careful with motorized equipment.”

Gerry Maiatico, Warren County Fire Marshal, said that this is a time of year where open-air burning can get out of hand and other sources can be problematic as well.

“As the weather starts to turn and we get cooler nights, we see people start to heat their homes with wood stoves and fireplaces,” he said. “We see ground cover fires due to the improper disposal of wood stove or fireplace ashes.”

Maiatico explained proper disposal methods for such materials.

“What we do is highly recommend that people keep them (ashes) in a metal ash bucket with a tight fitting lid for up to seven days. Believe it or not those embers can stay hot in those buckets for quite some time. People think that after two or three days they can dump it on the ground and when they do that, and the wind gets to it, it can reignite those ashes.”

Destroying yard waste via fire can also contribute to unintended spread of fire this time of year, as the trees shed their foliage.

“Whenever you go to an open-air fire format, make sure you notify the Warren County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number,” he said. “Make sure you’re burning in a safe area with fire safety in mind – have a garden hose nearby. Should it get out of hand, don’t think you can control it on your own – we see people battle these fires for 15 to 20 minutes and don’t call the fire department until it’s out of hand. You need to make sure that you keep an eye on the weather and immediately call 911. Don’t hesitate.”

Maiatico said that the burning of leaves and other yard waste is legal in Warren County with the exceptions of Blue Mountain and High Knob sanitary districts. Open burning is prohibited in these areas due to its proximity to Shenandoah National Park and other wildlands.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com.