In Central Virginia, dry conditions increase chances of fire

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

It’s typical for people to burn leaves this time of year after raking their yards. However, with the current dry conditions in Central Virginia, it’s more important right now to make sure to do these burns safely. 

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, mid-October to the end of November marks the fall fire season. This means that conditions are extra favorable to start or kindle wildfires. 

This is especially true for Buckingham County as the dry conditions have dramatically raised its fire rating. According to Brian Bates, the fire chief at Toga Volunteer Fire Department, these conditions are brought on due to the low humidity, low precipitation in the last 15 days and high winds. This year’s dry summer also attributed to the current dryness.

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“Always use caution when burning,” said Bates. “Be aware of what the weather is doing and if you can hold off until we’ve gotten some rain that’s the best they can do.”

Central Virginia wildfires take off

We’ve already seen one part of Central Virginia affected by these conditions. In Madison County, near Shenandoah National Park, a wildfire that ignited last week expanded to 1,600 acres. A state of emergency has since been declared, as it’s tearing through the park now. As of Wednesday, the fire stood at 2,480 acres and growing. It had just started as a 20-acre brush fire, ignited due to the dry conditions off Quaker Run Road, near the village of Syria. 

The good news? We could possibly see a break in the dry conditions this coming weekend. The National Weather Service forecasts two straight days of rain on Saturday and Sunday, but even that brings a bit of concern. The temperatures both nights are expected to be in the mid to high 30s. That means it’s possible some of the rain could turn to ice, if conditions are favorable. 

How to handle dry conditions

The Virginia Department of Forestry reports that more than 75% of wildfires are human caused in the state, with escaped debris burns being the leading cause. A few tips to avoid starting a wildfire include avoiding burning on dry or windy days, keeping the burn pile small, keeping a rake or water hose on hand, staying with the fire until it is fully out or considering an alternative like creating a compost pile with yard waste. 

One of the most important tips is having a phone ready to call 911. According to Bates, the fire department is happy to come out and help take care of a fire that is getting out of control. Many times, people try to fix the fire themselves and only cause the fire to get bigger. 

“Don’t wait to call and be embarrassed about it,” said Bates. “Call us so we can help because a lot of times it can get much worse. We are here to help and don’t mind coming out, we just have to be called first.”

During some problematic times, the Virginia Department of Forestry will have a 4 p.m. burn ban around February to April. There is currently no ban in effect right now but one can be made if conditions continue to get worse. Residents can check the Virginia Department of Forestry Facebook page or with their local fire departments to stay up to date if a burn ban is put in place.