Growing concerns over dry conditions across southwest Virginia


SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA (WJHL) – The majority of southwest Virginia is under a burn ban due to the dry conditions in the area.

As of September 24, the counties with those bans are Tazewell, Buchannan, Dickenson, Washington and Smyth. Scott County is expected to be under a burn ban next week.

It has been a really dry fall, and burn bans are increasing throughout southwest Virginia.

“One thing thing that we use in forestry is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which is the measurement of soil moisture and fuel moisture,” Senior Area Forester, Virginia Department of Forestry Bill Miller explained.

In Washington County, Virginia Miller said KBDI measures on a scale of zero to 800. Zero being the soil is completely saturated, and 800 is considered desert-like conditions.

“Our current KBDI is around 650, which folks who were calling the 2016 when they had the huge Gatlinburg fires, the KDBI was arounf 550. So, we’re a hundred points higher now than we were in 2016,” Miller said.

It is also important to note that the ten year average for KBDI for this time of year is about 300, which means Abingdon actually double that number.

The Gatlinburg, Tennessee fire that took place in November 2016, killed 14 people and more than 2400 buildings were burned.

“Because of this, the [Scott County] County Board of Supervisors is looking to call a burn ban into effect in the meeting next Wednesday,” Sergeant Wesley Bausell with the Gate City, Virginia Fire Department said.

In Scott County, Virginia, Sergeant Bausell suggests residents to keep outdoor burning to a minimum.

“Due to the heat, the terrain we have to go across sometimes, they are quite difficult to fight,” Sgt. Bausell said. “We do ask that if anyone in the community is burning things, we do ask that you excerise caution in doing that. Just be safe.”

However, your safest bet is to completely halt any outdoor burning until an exceptional amount of rain has taken place.

“The vast majority of fires that occur in Virginia are caused by humans, whether that’s debris burning or arsen fires. We have very few naturally-caused fires, which are usually caused by lightning strikes,” Miller said. “One problem we have with forest fires this time of year, is the leaves are continuously falling, so our control lines fill back up with leaves. We go out everyday until conditions change and blow those leaves out of those lines, otherwise the fire could possible cross our lines again.”

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