State sees uptick in wildfires, with nine brush fires occurring in Upshur County so far this year

BUCKHANNON – The number of wildfires in the State of West Virginia so far in 2021 has almost doubled compared with the number or wildfires in 2020.

The West Virginia Division of Forestry recently reported that between Jan. 1 and March 25, 2021, there were 312 wildfires with close to 3,000 acres burned. During the same time period in 2020, there were just 158 wildfires and 632 acres burned.

Locally, the Buckhannon Fire Department has responded to nine brush fires since the beginning of this year, with the most recent occurring March 17. Career firefighter John Brugnoli said that occurred near mile marker 14 near the Childers Run Road along U.S. Route 33.

Although the brush fire burned just an acre and “wasn’t too extensive,” according to Brugnoli, city and county fire departments are urging residents to follow the regulations put into place during spring fire season, which runs from March 1 through May 31 and bans open burns between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“The burning law says you can only burn natural materials, like vegetation, sticks, tree limbs, grass clippings, those kinds of things,” Brugnoli said during a recent interview. “We ask that if people are going to burn those materials in the city from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning that they get a burning permit from the city fire department.”

Brugnoli said fires after 5 p.m. don’t require burning permits if they are designed for heating or cooking purposes.

“It’s when people start clearing out brush that you’re going to need one,” he said. “If you’re making s’mores or roasting wieners or have a fire ring in your backyard, that is fine.”

Permits to burn brush are only needed inside city limits, he added.

The reason for limiting burns in the spring is that the weather tends to be drier during the day.

“The reasoning behind it is, in the evenings, there’s more humidity in the air so that keeps the fire level lower,” Brugnoli said. “The dew and humidity are what they say keeps the fire danger at a lower level.”

The Division of Forestry attributes the uptick in wildfires in 2021 to drier weather conditions this spring.

“The slight increase in fire activity this spring can be attributed to drier weather conditions during the month of March,” said Jon T. Wilson, service forester for Tyler and Doddridge Counties said in a Division of Forestry press release. “The precipitation experienced over most of the state during February did little to decrease forest fires this spring. Just as wet clothes hung outside will dry in an afternoon, so will forest leaf litter and vegetation. One dry and windy March afternoon can dry the fuels in the forest and ready them for combustion.”

According to the DOF, debris burning accounts for more than 35 percent of all wildfire occurrence over the past 10 years, and over 99 percent of all wildfires or smaller brush fires in West Virginia are caused by people, directly or indirectly.

The W.Va. DOF’s safety regulations are listed on their website,, and are listed below:

  • All fires must have a ring or safety strip.
  • The safety strip itself must be cleared of burnable material and be at least 10 feet wide.
  • Fire must be attended until completely extinguished.
  • Only vegetative materials such as leaves, brush and yard clippings are permitted to be burnt.
  • Spark-throwing machinery such as power shovels or sawmills operating on land subject to fire must contain an adequate spark arrestor.
  • Inflammable waste disposal areas must annually remove all grass, brush, debris, and other inflammable material adjacent to disposal areas to provide adequate protection, preventing the escape of fire to adjacent lands.
  • Commercial enterprises such as manufacturing must purchase a permit before burning during prohibited periods. Permits are issued by local WVDOF offices. A permit is required for each commercial burning site.

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