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May, 2007

VDOF’s Wildland Fire Academy at Fort Pickett Next Week

Nearly 400 firefighters from Virginia and 10 other states will gather at Fort
  Pickett in Blackstone next week for the seventh annual Wildland Fire Academy.

Nearly 400 firefighters from Virginia and 10 other states will gather at Fort Pickett in Blackstone next week for the seventh annual Wildland Fire Academy. A total of 14 nationally certified courses – ranging from basic skills and initial attack to chainsaw operations and fireplow suppression – will be conducted.

“The Wildland Fire Academy is an excellent tool to train people in the latest tactics and incident management techniques to assure the Commonwealth is fully prepared for any wildfire emergency,” said John Miller, director of resource protection. “The Academy also offers some of the most advanced, all-risk emergency incident management training available in Virginia, and this helps to fill a critical need for the increasing threats to national security.”

Spring Fire Season Officially Ends, But Conditions Still Ripe For Wildland Fires

At the stroke of midnight April 30th, spring fire season officially ended in Virginia. Although the calendar says fire season is no more, conditions around the Commonwealth are such that the threat of wildland fire is still very real.

“Typically the first week in May means that the grass is green, the leaves are once again on the trees and we’ve had some significant rainfall throughout the Commonwealth,” said John Miller, VDOF’s director of resource protection. “That’s simply not the case everywhere in Virginia this year. There are a number of places, primarily in the Shenandoah Valley and in the mountains of western and southwestern Virginia, where this ‘green-up’ has yet to occur.”

The 2007 spring fire season was a busy one, but not as active as in 2006. From January 1st through April 30th, 2007, VDOF responded to 878 wildland fires that burned 7,423 acres, nine homes and one other structure. That compares to 1,048 fires that burned 11,365 acres, 13 homes and 38 other structures during the same period in 2006.

VDOF employees and members of volunteer fire departments throughout Virginia protected 488 homes and 336 other structures this year. This is a 13 percent increase in the number of homes protected and a 25 percent increase in the number of other structures protected.

“As more and more people move into what were the more rural areas of the state (known as the wildland-urban interface), we are seeing that more people and more property are at risk,” Miller said. “This risk will only continue to grow.”

VDOF Hires Forest Land Conservation Specialist

Assistant Director for
  Forest Land Conservation Rob Farrell

Rob Farrell, who has served as the VDOF field forester in Gloucester County for a number of years, has become the Agency’s assistant director for forest land conservation.

The position, which was made possible following the departure of Mike Foreman, was developed to focus Agency resources on enhancing this vital service area. Foreman, who was the riparian and land conservation manager, left VDOF for a higher-level position at the Department of Conservation & Recreation.

Farrell has been working to develop programs, policies and procedures that he and others will use to work with Virginia landowners to conserve much of the remaining forest land in the Commonwealth.

“Virginia is losing more than 26,000 acres of forest land each year,” Farrell said. “Once this land is converted to housing developments and/or retail establishments, it’s likely that it will never be forest land again. And some people are projecting that this disturbing trend will only continue so that, within the next 25 years, Virginia will have lost 1 million acres of forest land.”

Besides the numerous environmental benefits, such as clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, Virginia’s forests provide more than $29.4 Billion in benefits annually to the Commonwealth, and the forest products industry employs 184,000 Virginians – making it No. 1 in manufacturing jobs and No. 1 in salaries and wages.

“Governor Kaine has established a goal of conserving 400,000 acres of land in the Commonwealth by the year 2010,” Farrell said. “The greatest opportunity to realize that goal will be through the conservation of forest land.”