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Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Smokey Bear Time

The recent forest fires in Virginia are a Reminder to some and a wake-up call to others.

The mild winter with very little precipitation and the dry spring we are having, coupled with the windy conditions of late, are a recipe for a bad forest and wildfire season.

Places in Virginia that would typically be out of fire season are holding on to the last (hopefully) gasp of Spring Fire season.  It doesn’t take much to ignite the dry grass and low-lying scrubs in underbrush. Last spring and summer, we were worrying about everything washing away, and now we have to worry about things going up in smoke. The landscape has been drying out for several months, and without a significant amount of rain, conditions are only going to get worse. Caution and, most of all, common sense will be the watchwords in the outdoors.

In an average year there are approximately 1,200 wildfires in Virginia. Of those, more than 90 percent are caused by people.

In addition to those fires started deliberately by arsonists, some of the most common causes include burning leaves and debris, unattended campfires , sparks from equipment and vehicles,  discarded cigarettes and children playing with matches.

So here are some of the things you can do to help cut down on the chances of accidently starting a wildfire.
• One of the first and most important things you can do is educate children on the dangers of matches or lighters. Needless to say, you should always keep these devices and other combustibles out of the reach of children. It is also important that children know not to touch lighters and matches, and if they come upon them, to alert an adult.

For those of you who still smoke you should do so in a safe manner. Use the ashtray in your vehicle, and when in the outdoors, wet your used cigarette, pipe ashes or cigar before discarding. If no water is available, crush it with your shoe and make sure it is completely out. Never just throw a cigarette out the window of your vehicle.

Another common cause of wildfires is debris burning that gets “out of control”. Please before lighting that match make sure it is legal to be burning, many local and state laws are in place that prohibit or limit open air burning at various times of the year. Currently we are still in what is referred to as the 4 PM Law time period. It is illegal to have any open air fire within 300 feet of the woods or dry grass before 4 PM.  Several localities currently have restrictions in place so it is recommended that you check with your local Virginia Department of Forestry or Law enforcement agency.

• The careless use of a campfire is yet another of the causes of wildfires. However, there are several things you can do to keep a campfire from turning into a disaster. First and foremost is to always check to see if there is a fire ban in the area you are camping. Even if there is no fire ban, there are some simple rules you should follow when building a fire when camping, fishing or partaking in any other outdoor activity. First, always clear the area around your fire for at least 10 feet, so it is free of debris and any material that might ignite from a stray spark. Always dig a pit for your fire and or ring it with rocks to isolate the fire from the surrounding area. Always keep a bucket of water and shovel close to the fire to quickly put out any problems. It is also a good practice to keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle or camper, and keep it handy around a campfire. You should also choose hard woods that burn cleanly and don’t throw a lot of sparks. Finally, NEVER leave your fire unattended. Not only is this against the law but is is very dangerous. When you go to sleep or are leaving your fire make sure it is completely out, “Dead Out”, pour water on the ashes of your fire and stir them with the shovel or rake and pour more water on them. Do this over and over until there is no smoke or heat left.

A charred landscape is one of the most depressing scenes in the outdoors, so if you will be camping, fishing or participating in any other outdoor activity this spring and summer, please follow Smokey Bear’s message Always Be Careful With Fire. Remember Only You Can Prevent a Wildfire.

What else can you do to help?
If you live in or near a wooded area, the Virginia Firewise program can help protect your home and community from wildfires. The Firewise program offers simple ways community members can work together to prevent their properties from becoming fuel for a wildfire. Residents can reduce the risk of their home’s ignition with simple changes to their homes and immediate surroundings. For example, clearing a space around your home can reduce wildfire threat. Reduce surrounding vegetation and prune large trees. Even something as simple as cleaning gutters and eaves of leaves and debris can prevent an ember from igniting a home.

This year, we hope to keep wildfires in Virginia to a minimum by enlisting more help from the public. Using the simple tips above can help us prevent a wildfire from becoming catastrophic.
REMEMBER ........

THANKS for doing your part and not letting a wildfire start.

Many of our recent wildfires have been very suspicious in nature, in my next blog, pending any significant wildfire activity, I will discuss the problem of woods arson, what can be done and how you can help.

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