MASON COUNTY — According to Tom Withrow, Fire Forester for Mason, Jackson and Putman counties with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, the drought which West Virginia experienced this summer has made for an increased danger of wildfires this fall.
It was reported that large logs and other heavy fuels on the forest floor have had several months to dry out and could cause wildfires to burn more intensely once they get started. The decaying organic materials between the leaf litter and the mineral soil, also called the duff layer, have dried out and opens up the possibility of fire burning into the ground. It was also reported that leaf fall may occur much earlier than usual, all of which can be factors of an increased likelihood of fires getting started and being harder to control.
It was reported that the wildfire season officially began on October 1 and restricted burning hours are in place until January 1. Outdoor burning, with the exception of cooking and warming fires, are prohibited during the day between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. It was stated that a ten foot wide safety strip is required by law to be in place around any fire before it is started and it must be cleared of all flammable materials such as leaves and dead grass. Fires must also be attended until they are dead out and those burning are asked to stir the ashes and mix in soil or water until all the embers are extinguished before leaving the fire. It was also stated that burning of anything other than vegetative debris is illegal and violations of the forest fire laws are punishable by fines of up to $1000. Those responsible for causing a wildfire can be billed for the cost of putting the fire out in addition to fines.
Withrow also offered the following tips and “common sense” rules when burning:
• Don’t burn on windy days.
• Don’t burn a brush pile bigger than you can control or put out during the legal burning hours.
• Don’t burn against an uphill slope.
• Be prepared and have the tools you will need on hand before you light your fire.
• Call your local 911 center before you burn if it’s going to make a lot of smoke, your neighbors at the local volunteer fire department will thank you for not having to run our on a false alarm. The non-emergency telephone numbers for the local 911 centers are Mason County, 675-9911, Jackson County, 672-2000, Putnam County, 586-0246. Also, check with city hall about any additional burning ordinances if you live inside the town limits.
Withrow also stated locals should take a few precautions to protect their property from wildfire, including taking all dead leaves, brush, and other flammable plant materials at least forty feet away from houses, barns, or outbuildings. Open eaves should also be sealed to prevent windborne embers from getting into attics. Those with firewood piles against their house or under a deck are also asked to consider moving them, as well as loose debris and propane boilers as well.
It was reported that every year, 1500 wildfires burn 32,000 acres in West Virginia on average. The vast majority (99 percent) of the fires are caused by human activities and are therefore preventable.
For more information concerning the burning regulations, contact a West Virginia Division of Forestry office at the following locations: Lakin, 675-1820, Milton, 743-6186, Elizabeth, 275-0261.