(WVNS) — As of 9 a.m. December 2, 2021, two brush/wildfires are active in the state of West Virginia. One in the New River Gorge National Park and the other in Page, WV. While the causes of the fires are still unknown at this time, we know the recent weather across the area is a contributing factor to their spread. In the previous month, rain was hard to come by not only in West Virginia but across much of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States as drought conditions worsened through the region.
Prolonged periods of dry weather, especially during the fall, contribute to high levels of dried/dead vegetation which in turn becomes fuel for fires to grow. For example, a forest floor covered in leaves during a normal day would provide plenty of easy kindling to start a fire and have it spread. This risk is only exasperated when leaves have been baking in the sun, and haven’t seen a soaking rain in a while.
In addition to long dry stretches and drought, Meteorologists look for a few other key factors when the weather becomes a contributing factor to a fire risk.
During the Fall, Winter, and early Spring dry air is a consistent issue as temperatures generally run cooler during these seasons. Cool air is denser, and as a result, cannot hold as much water vapor such as warmer air found during late Spring and into the Summer. During prolonged periods of low humidity (dry air), static electricity tends to grow and raises the risk of an unexpected shock. In some cases, this can be enough to spark up a fire if the electrical discharge is great enough. Other weather events such as high winds, can fan flames and blow them into otherwise unaffected areas further spreading the fire.
As of December 2, all of southern West Virginia and most of Virginia are under a “Moderate” risk for fire danger according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Division of Forestry also told 59News that in the region of Southern WV, they have seen 42 fires burning nearly 400 acres. Across the entire Mountain State, they have seen 120 wildfires and brushfires.
While the weather can often help fires to grow and spread, it can also inhibit them when winds begin to die down and rain re-enters the forecast. Remember you can check the weather anytime on the 59News or StormTracker 59 mobile apps which are available on the App Store, and Google Play for free. Or you can check out the latest weather blog right here on our website!