Virginia officials warn that this wildfire season could be severe

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — After weeks of drought conditions across most of our area, the Virginia Department of Forestry is preparing for what could be a severe fall wildfire season.

WHSV file image of firefighter response during the Rocky Mount Fire

“This is one of the driest falls we’ve seen in Virginia during the past 20 years,” said State Forester Rob Farrell. “The potential for an increased number of fires and more complex fires is significant.”

On Oct. 16, we're getting our first widespread, significant rain in quite a while, but fire danger still continues to grow day by day without more of that.

"Normally, as fall comes around, we start to have death in vegetation and then it starts to dry out as well. Without any moisture, it dries out a lot quicker," said Rockingham County Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Joe Mullens.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the start of the fall wildfire season in Virginia.

The lack of significant rainfall in nearly a month, combined with lower humidity typical for fall, means an increased risk of wildfire.

Virginia's fall wildfire season is measured from October 15 to the end of November or early December. According to the VDOF, it's been several years since the season has begun with such dry conditions.

As of Oct. 16, at least 39 localities in Virginia had enacted county-wide burn bans. All of West Virginia had been under a mandatory burn ban and a state of emergency for drought conditions, but that has since been lifted.

The burn bans in Virginia are mostly focused in southwest Virginia. Residents are encouraged to check with their local sheriff or county administrator's office before having any outdoor fire.

“We support each county’s decision to take the proactive step of establishing burn bans,” said VDOF Director of Fire and Emergency Response John Miller. ”Placing restrictions on burning is not a task easily taken by the county government, but if this prevents a single wildfire from occurring, it will be worth it. One never knows if that one fire prevented could have also saved a life.”

Everyone in an area with a burn ban is asked to obey all local restrictions and postpone any outdoor burning until the bans are removed. But everyone else is also asked to be careful and follow these guidelines:

· Don’t burn on windy days
· Keep your burn piles small,
· Have water and tools nearby,
· Never leave your fire unattended.
· If you are burning and your fire escapes, call 911 immediately.

Most fall fires are caused by debris burning and dumping hot stove ashes outside.

“How this season turns out remains to be seen, “said Farrell. “But the potential for a severe fire season is very real. VDOF personnel have ramped up preparedness and we urge the public to do their part to help reduce the number and severity of fires this fall.”