It has been an unusually hot and dry spring so far. With the bumper crop of fallen leaves from last fall it makes for a tinderbox of epic proportions.
It just takes one wayward spark and the whole mountainside can go up in flames. Add in the windy conditions all around the region in the last few weeks and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.
The rash of wildfires in recent weeks is just a testament to how volatile the mountains really are this time of year. Anytime the conditions are right, fires are bound to happen.
The troubling part of forest fire season is that most fires could be prevented. The West Virginia Division of Forestry has put in place burning restrictions to help reduce the chances of fires getting out of hand, but far too often they do.
Burning restrictions are in place from March 1st through May 31st and also from October 1st through December 1st. During these times of the year the chance for wildfires is higher due to an abundance of fuel, also known as dry leaves, and the fact that during these periods the weather is often prone to long periods of dry weather.
Outdoor burning is only permitted from 5pm to 7am and all fires must be extinguished by 7am. Only yard waste including wood and brush is permissible to be burned. Any burning must be isolated by an area of at least 10 feet wide cleared of all flammable material.
If the fire you have started escapes and causes a forest fire you will be subject to a fine ranging from $100 to $1000. Additional civil penalties, and possibly charges, can be filed as well.
Last Spring, forest fires burnt 2,658 acres. We have already surpassed that number this spring and more fires are popping up daily. Almost 50% of all forest fires are started by debris fires that escape. What is even more disturbing is that over 10% of forest fires are intentionally set.
If folks would just follow a few common sense rules, then we could greatly reduce the numbers each year. Here are a few good practices to help keep those fires under control this spring.
Always burn yard waste and brush in small piles rather than one big pile. Burn brush a little at a time to reduce the risk of the fire getting away and starting a forest fire.
Another good practice is to never burn on a windy day. The wind can whip the fire into a frenzy in a hurry, it can even blow a fire across a cleared fire line or rekindle a fire that has seemingly gone out. Wind and fire don’t mix!
Always have water and tools on hand to help control the fire and to put it out before it becomes a problem. Once the fire has gotten out of control it is tough to handle.
Probably the best piece of advice it to call 911 immediately if a fire does escape. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and the quicker you can get help to control and put out the fire, the safer everyone will be.
The WV Division of Forestry has plenty more safe burning tips to help prevent forest fires. A good rule of thumb is that if you have any concerns about a fire getting away, don’t start one!
Luckily forest fires have always been a part of nature. Granted, those fires weren’t always started by man, but Mother Nature and her creatures are very well versed in adapting and surviving in areas prone to wildfires.
Don’t give up hope if your favorite hunting ground is hit by a forest fire. Given time, the forest will recover and be even healthier than before.
The fire will clear away the dead leaves and brush and allow more sunlight and moisture to reach the forest floor. This breath of fresh air allows a diverse group of plants and animals to come into a burnt over area and begin to thrive in a very short period of time. Before you know it, you will barely be able to tell the fire had been there.
Still the more fires we can prevent the better off we will be, but when one does occur, it doesn’t spell doom for the local wildlife. Given time and a growing season the forest will recover and the wild critters we love to chase will be back to business as usual and will have forgotten all about the smoke and soot that filled their home. Nature truly is amazing if we just sit back and watch.