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Burn bans, defined as a “mandatory, yet temporary, order that restricts outdoor burning which includes debris burning, burning in a barrel and open fire pits,” are typically a direct result of an increase in human-caused fires, usually due to carelessness.
A few things typically happen whenever a burn ban is put into effect: open-air fires are suspended, the making of fires on private property are prohibited and the bans are enforced by the local county officials, not the state or its employees.
Virginia Department of Forestry’s (VDOF) records of wildfires in Craig County over the last nine years indicate that 12 percent of the fires were naturally caused by lightning. More than 50 percent of fires are caused by debris burning. Power line fires are a close second, according to a VDOF spokesperson.
Effective October 25, a burn ban was lifted throughout most of Southwest Virginia.
“During droughts similar to this past summer and fall, fire occurrence was unusually high early, and the lack of soil moisture allowed fires to burn deep into the duff and soil through dry root mats. This made them very difficult to extinguish, requiring significantly more time, equipment and man-hours,” said Dennis McCarthy.
As a VDOF Area Forester, McCarthy is responsible for forest fire suppression and prevention on private forestland. Joe Boswell, the senior area forester, is responsible for the cities of Roanoke, Salem and Radford. He is also responsible for the counties of Bedford, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke.
“Virginia Department of Forestry’s records are based only on fires that the agency responds to, and only accounts for a small percentage of brush fires that occur in the county. Fire department personnel quickly control most brush fires with no additional need for help from the department,” Boswell said.
If found responsible for causing a wildfire, said individual would likely be obligated to reimburse the state for its suppression costs which can be in the thousands.
“For any fuel dry enough to carry fire across the landscape, if you are within 300 feet of said dry fuel you can only set fire to woody debris between the hours of 4 p.m. through midnight ,” McCarthy said. “The reason for this is that the daily fire conditions begin to subside in the later afternoon hours. Temperature begins to decrease, relative humidity begins to rise and winds begin to die down, making conditions less favorable for ignition and fire growth.”
For more information about burn bans, visit dof.virginia.gov.