W.Va. Division of Forestry urges the public to practice fire safety and burning precautions to prevent wildfires

CHARLESTON, W.VA. — The West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF) reminds the public to be cautious throughout spring fire season and follow safe burning laws.

Between Jan. 1 and March 25, 2021, the state has reported 312 fires and nearly 3,000 acres burned. During the same period in 2020, the state counted 158 fires and 632 acres burned. Debris burning accounts for more than 35% of all wildfire occurrence over the past 10 years.

Spring fire season extends from March 1 through May 31. During this period, burning is prohibited from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The WVDOF provides Forest Fire Laws on their website.

Reasons for fire seasons

The weather conditions and the care people take with their fires play important roles in preventing wildfires.

“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. “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.”

The daylight burning ban from 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. is based on the presence of dead vegetation and low relative humidity. In spring and fall fire season, relative humidity levels are typically lower than in summer, but increase toward evening. Leaf litter absorbs the moisture overnight, making the material less flammable.

“If residents carefully follow the fire laws, we can reduce the numbers of fires,” said Wilson. “The seasonal regulations have been in place for many years and they are very effective in preventing forest fires.”

Consequences of uncontrolled fire

Losing control of a debris fire can endanger property, wildlife and people.

“In a recent incident, the Division of Forestry unit in command of a wildfire discovered a power pole that was actively burning,” Wilson said. “This power pole carried large transmission lines and would have been lost had Forestry not extinguished it quickly.”

The WVDOF makes the initial response to forest fires and is in command of the fire until it is completely extinguished. Forestry coordinates the suppression efforts using its own and local county resources.

In many areas, local volunteer fire departments may be called to join fire suppression efforts.

“When these local first responders are busy fighting forest fires, they are out of service to the local community,” he said. “Any county emergencies that occur during this time will have a delayed response from the fire department. It could be the difference between life and death in some cases.”

All Division foresters have authority to issue citations for fire code law violations. Any person or company that has caused a fire on any grass or forest land must reimburse the state for the costs incurred in the suppression of the fire. Fines for forest fires due to negligence range from $100 to $1,000 with additional civil penalty of $200.

Arson fires

Arson accounts for approximately 22% of West Virginia wildfires.

The WVDOF is responsible for investigating wildland arson fires. The Division’s Special Operations Unit uses certified search dogs and meticulous arson investigation techniques to pursue arsonists. Forestry also enlists the eyes and ears of members of the public.

Anyone with information about arson fires can contact Forestry’s Special Operations Unit by calling the arson hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE or by reporting online at wvforestry.com/report-a-violation. Additional contact information for WV Forestry’s regional offices can be found at wvforestry.com/contact-us.

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