Forestry News electronic newsletter masthead

May 2010

Wet Weather Pushes Number of Wildfires Down Nearly 30 Percent

A mix of snow and rain events combined with Virginia's 4 p.m. Burn Law led to a 29 percent decrease in wildfires during the state's spring fire season, which runs from Feb. 15th through April 30th each year, compared to the same period in 2009. There were 400 wildfires during the 75-day spring fire season this year compared to 563 wildfires last spring.

The number of acres burned in the Commonwealth declined 42.5 percent (3,240 in 2010 and 5,635 in 2009).

“These are significant decreases,” said State Forester of Virginia Carl Garrison. “The precipitation we experienced this spring in conjunction with our decades-old 4 p.m. Burn Law really made a difference this year. While we did experience several large fires in Southwest Virginia, overall the threat to our citizens was diminished.”

Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) personnel protected a total of 411 homes and other structures from the ravages of wildfires this spring. One home was damaged.

Garrison said, “With just 183 VDOF wildland firefighters to protect nearly 16 million acres (24,531 sq. miles) of forestland, we have to rely on the assistance of a cadre of on-call firefighters across the state as well as the inmate crews in Southwest Virginia. All are well-trained in how to fight such fires. And of course, the support we received from VDOT and the US Forest Service is very much appreciated.”

As in years past, the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Virginia is people burning debris. Other major causes include arson, children, cigarettes tossed from vehicles, power lines, camp fires, and mechanical equipment. These “human activities” account for 97 percent of the wildfires in the state; only about 3 percent are caused by lightning.

VDOF Ups Reward to $5,000; Franklin County Fire Transport Torched in September 2009

The VDOF has increased the reward - from $2,000 to $5,000 - for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for setting fire to the agency's fire dozer transport vehicle in September of last year. The 2007 Sterling transport vehicle was a total loss.

The vehicle was parked September 11th on private land, near the intersection of Sontag Road and Goode Mountain Road approximately eight miles southeast of Rocky Mount, Va., in preparation for a prescribed burn that was to take place September 14th. On September 12th, VDOF officials were contacted by the landowner that the transport vehicle was burned by an arsonist.

“Unless this arsonist is brought to justice, the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia will have to pay for the loss of this valuable firefighting equipment,” said Ed Stoots, VDOF regional forester in Salem. “The person or people responsible for this criminal activity should be held responsible for the damage they caused and the increased risk of danger from wildfire in which they've put their families, friends and neighbors.”

Law enforcement officers from the Virginia State Police (VSP) and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office are investigating the crime. Anyone with information is asked to contact Special Agent Garland Snead of the VSP at 540.375.9547; David Edwards of the VDOF at 276.236.2322, or Ed Stoots at 540.387.5461, Ext. 229.