GHENT, WV (WVNS) — The two Virginias have had a rather long dry spell with little rainfall during a time of the year when dry vegetation is plentiful. Not surprising brush and wildfires are popping up all across the region as a result.
Over the last week, most have been lucky to see a trace amount of rain, under 0.01 inch and while rain is in the forecast, so are long stretches of dry weather.
As drought conditions continue to creep into the region with portions of Pocahontas & Greenbrier county in West Virginia in drought stage 1 along with Tazewell & Giles county in Virginia, fire dangers have risen sharply.
In West Virginia, fall fire bans are in place limiting burning to the hours of 5pm to 7am. However, in the days of dry and windy conditions, being allowed to burn doesn’t always mean its a good idea. One of the best protections against wildfires is to not burn until after a soaking rain when the ground is damp or even wet.
Other safety measures, meant to stop fires before they begin, are to only burn vegetative materials like leaves, stumps, branches, and brush. Clearing a 10 foot radius around your fire of all debris, grass, and have a protecting ring around your fire. Monitoring your fire at all times and having a water source near by, ready to extinguish fires that grow beyond their safety strip can help fires from spreading beyond your control.
For wildfires already burning, there are still steps to protect your family and your home from becoming engulfed in flames. Reporting fires or smoke to 911 or other emergency officials can get first responders out quickly enough to battle it before it has a chance to spread.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), creating a 30 foot barrier around your home can help when wildfires are in your area. Clearing debris like dead leaves, branches, dead trees in a 30 foot radius around your home starves a fire of fuel far enough away from your home the radiant heat won’t cause your home to spontaneously combust.
Cleaning your roof and gutters regularly, especially in the fall, can keep fuel sources off your home. Winds can carry sparks and embers miles from a fire source. In very dry conditions, a single spark can land in debris igniting a fire on your home that can quickly spread.
Closing off gaps in your homes foundation can limit wind blown embers from entering your home and causing a fire in hard to reach places.
Having highly visible address markers can help first responders find your home quickly in the event of a fire. With home fires, time is of the essence and precious moments can be lost with poorly marked or hard to see street numbers.
Having access to water, knowing where it is, how it operates, and its reach can help, too. A small fire can grow quickly, often becoming bigger than your water source can handle. A small brush fire can be handled with a normal garden hose but one left to burn in the right conditions can require more water to put out than a garden hose can provide. Knowing the difference can save you from injury or wasted time and effort.
Sometimes, when all safety measures are in place, conditions can be so perfect, nothing can help. Having an exit plan and making sure your family knows it can be life saving. Have a “go bag” ready with clothes, water, food, medications, money, and important documents.
In times like these, checking with your home owner insurance before a fire to make sure your home is covered is a huge help. It’ll save time knowing what your policy covers and how to file a claim, all in an effort to get you back on your feet quickly after a fire.
The best protection, is of course, prevention and awareness. Fire danger maps provided by the West Virginia Division of Forestry can let you know your daily fire risk. Finding tips and helpful information through government agencies like FEMA or disaster response resources such as the American Red Cross can help before and after a fire. And staying up-to-date with current and forecasted weather conditions like our own StormTracker 59 team.