Fire ban in effect for area national forests

Statewide fire bans have been instituted across several southern states as drought conditions and ample fuel sources are making for optimal conditions for wildfires.

Locally, the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests enacted the same ban on Tuesday.

Stephanie Chapman, an interpretive specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, explained why conditions are prime for wildfires, which can – and often do – get out out of hand.

“The reason the forest service is implementing the ban is because Virginia is experiencing a severe drought,” she said. “Rainfalls are significantly below normal. The fall months have the usual fire season because of leaves on the ground.”

Campfires at what Chapman called “developed campgrounds” are permitted, but only with a fire ring. She said for those backpacking or hunting, warming fires are prohibited. Campstoves are still allowed, just no open flames, Chapman said. Smoking is also prohibited in places that aren’t deemed “developed” or in enclosed vehicles or buildings or in areas where all flammable material has been cleared within a 3-foot radius.

Fires have been raging in parts of North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia and some even as far as New York, according to the Associated Press. There have been calls for evacuations in South Carolina and a state of emergency declaration in North Carolina as a result of the fires.

Chapman said that the bans will be lifted once precipitation increases and drought conditions are lessened, adding that due to the statewide nature of the ban, it may be hard to predict just when that might be.

Rebecca Robbins, public affairs specialist for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests. said that the ban will run until Feb. 1 at least, and will be reevaluated then.

“The key is that we’re in a little different weather pattern up here than they are further south,” Chapman said. “Monday evening we got a nice rain – they didn’t get that further down south where the fires are burning. It’s going to be challenging for folks to predict when they will be lifted. Conditions will have to change significantly throughout the entire state.”

Robbins said that this is the first forestwide ban that has been instituted since 2007.

“Usually you’ll see it regionally first and when you have a drought affecting the entire area, it’s time to consider forest wide,” she said. “There are no significant rain events forecast in the immediate forecast.”

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