Southwest Virginia wildfire officials warn residents of fire dangers

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RUSSELL COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Even with the rain we’ve been seeing, our region is still at risk of wildfires.

“The Virginia Department of Forestry has no burning restrictions in the fall,” said Bill Miller, the senior area forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “However, most of the counties in Southwest Virginia have elected to put in a burn ban.”

Those counties include places like Washington, Russell and Buchanan counties.

“Although we’ve had some rain recently, it’s still very dry in the woods,” Miller said.

So the Virginia Department of Forestry has decided to call in extra resources to help.

“The US Forest Service or the state forest service has the option of calling in a national prevention team which helps them get the message out to the public,” said Donna Wilson of the Wildfire Prevention Team.

The team is made up of four members who inform the public about the dangers of disobeying those burn bans.

“Our danger for wildfire is still high in the area. I know we’ve been fortunate and we got some moisture that’s coming to the area today, but long-term, we are still in drought conditions here,” said Sarah Gracey of the Wildfire Prevention Team.

The Wildfire Prevention Team saying even if your area isn’t under a burn ban to still be vigilant when starting fires.

“When you leave that area, make sure it’s totally out and dead. You can do that by pouring water and stirring it, and then make sure you feel it. Make sure you touch it to feel if it’s cool, and if it’s not cool to the touch, then you cant leave it,” Wilson said.

The Department of Forestry measures drought conditions with the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is measured on a scale from 0-800, with 800 being desert-like conditions. Currently, Virginia is at 590.

“We’re a long way from being safe to burn at this time. Right now, the fine fuels such as pine needles, the grasses and the leaves are wet and saturated, but a couple days of sunshine and wind will dry those out quickly,” Miller said.

Miller says some areas of Virginia need almost six inches of rain to get the soil saturated again.

The Department of Forestry and the Wildfire Prevention Team work hand in hand with volunteer fire departments and remind people that if they see anything suspicious, say something.

“I would encourage members of the public if you see something that causes you concern, you feel that it’s a wildfire or a threat to a possible wildfire, don’t wait, call 911,” Gracey said.

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