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March, 2008

February Fires Set A Record

Wildfires know no season, and high winds got the jump on Spring Fire Season, fanning a record number of fires. Between February 10 and February 15, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) responded to 348 reported fires consuming 15,962 acres.

February 2008 is now a historic month for Virginia fire activity - 127 fires in one day is now a record for the most fires during a single day. The acreage burned was exceeded only three times during the last 50 years, and that total is for the entire years of 1963 (44,823 acres), 1987 (20,393 acres), and 2001 (19,476 acres).

Prevention Educator Earns Governor's Award

Pictured: Fred Turck with the Governor's Award for Excellence in Virginia Fire Prevention. Crafting safety messages about wildfire prevention, and making homeowners in the wildland-urban interface aware of the dangers they face, is a vital mission of the VDOF. Ensuring the availability of these messages is an ongoing task of Fred Turck. As the VDOF assistant director of resource protection, Fred organizes, plans and delivers wildfire prevention education messages throughout the state.

Gov. Timothy Kaine recognized Turck's efforts by presenting him with the Governor's Award for Excellence in Virginia Fire Prevention. The Governor noted Fred's exceptional success in leading VDOF's wildfire prevention campaign, and in efforts to educate woodland home communities through VDOF's Firewise Virginia program. Turck was also instrumental in implementing wildfire prevention campaigns following Hurricane Isabel and during the fall 2001 and 2007 fire seasons.

John Miller, director of resource protection, said, "No single person in Virginia, over the last 15 years, has accomplished more than Fred Turck in the area of wildland fire prevention on a statewide basis, easily reaching millions of Virginia's citizens."

"I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on projects that benefit Virginians in a very direct and immediate way," said Turck. "Education and safety are very important to me personally and professionally, and to be recognized with this award makes me deeply, deeply proud."

Virginia Helps Oklahoma Assess Ice Damage

Pictured: Image of ice damage from the Oklahoma University campus.

A severe ice storm affected parts of Oklahoma and injured thousands of trees. At the request of the Oklahoma Forest Service and Region 8 of the USDA Forest Service, teams from VDOF traveled to Tulsa to assess the health and viability of the trees. All the team members are Certified Arborists who attended a storm damage assessment training last summer. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with Tulsa on a pilot project to reimburse the community for tree damage based on this assessment process.

Using FEMA-based standards as a guide, each damaged tree was examined and inventoried. Trees with extensive damage, or that pose a threat to public safety, were recommended for removal. Pruning was suggested to repair damaged crowns. In addition, the health of trees not damaged by ice was determined and inventoried.

GIS technology was used to collect data and recommendations, and the tree locations were catalogued with aerial photos and GIS coordinates. Use of the GIS data format improves efficiency by reducing the time spent gathering data, reducing FEMA's workload, and minimizing delays in payments to communities. As of February 29, the City of Tulsa has already received $400,000 from FEMA for the ice damage in February.

Tree Planting Celebrates Life and Career of Staunton Man

Pictured: VDOF employees plant trees at the Augusta Forestry Center to honor Tom Elliot's 90th birthday.

How do you honor a celebrant on his 90th birthday? When VDOF's Larry Edwards was looking for ideas to celebrate the birthday of Tom Elliott, a former colleague, he didn't have to look far. His answer: plant 90 trees. Black walnut trees were selected, and planted to help stabilize a stream bank at the Augusta Forestry Center.

A resident of Staunton, Mr. Elliott was on hand as members of the Skyline Chapter of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and employees and retirees of the VDOF dug open the soil to plant this lasting honor.

A former Staunton District Forester, Mr. Elliott retired from the VDOF in 1983 -- capping a 38-year career with the agency that began after his return from service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Before the War, Mr. Elliott worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Governor Lauds Efforts of Firefighters and Volunteers

Pictured: Governor Timothy Kaine stands with public service employees following a speech on Feb. 28.

Gov. Timothy Kaine thanked the men and women from VDOF, county, municipal fire departments, and the Virginia National Guard for a job well done fighting the wildfires that occurred earlier in the month of February.

Referring to February 10, the Governor said, "This ... was the most challenging day, in terms of wildfires, that the state has ever responded to, and we responded to it the way we always respond to challenges, which was to respond to it as a team."

The VDOF estimates that its firefighting budget has been exhausted because of the fires. Governor Kaine said after his speech that money in the emergency contingency budget is available to help the department get through the spring fire season, which continues through April 30. The Governor also emphasized the dry winter and urged citizens to be aware that the potential for more wildfires exists.