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July, 2011

Fireworks, Sparklers Remain a Fire Hazard

While legal fireworks and sparklers are a popular part of July 4th celebrations, in most areas of Virginia they could become a cause of wildfires this year.

Many areas of the state have experienced below-average rainfall, resulting in dry brush and grass.

“One spark is all it would take for a wildfire to start,” said Fred Turck, assistant director for wildfire prevention and education with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). “Fireworks that have finished burning are still extremely hot, and they can smolder in dry grass or leaves before a fire ignites.”

Turck recommends keeping a bucket of water; wet towel, and a fully-charged garden hose nearby. Children and pets should also be kept a safe distance away from igniting and spent fireworks.

Many types of fireworks (including firecrackers, bottle rockets, skyrockets, torpedoes and other fireworks that explode, travel laterally, rise into the air, or fire projectiles into the air) are illegal in Virginia unless you are a licensed contractor. A good alternative to personal fireworks are the community displays. Check your local news source for information on times and locations, or go online.

VDOF Firefighters and Equipment Deployed Nationally to Suppress Wildfires

VDOF employee Jim Bowling at work on an out-of-state fire deployment.

Wildland firefighters from the VDOF are conducting wildfire suppression efforts in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina as part of a mobilization of forces to fight a large number of the wildfires in those states. Most of the VDOF resources are in Florida to assist the Florida Division of Forestry as it fights more than 250 wildfires burning across that state and North Carolina battling a large fire outside of Wilmington. More than 30 personnel and five engines have been deployed since June 15.

“Local resources are stretched to the limit,” said VDOF Director of Resource Protection John Miller. “Virginia is a member of the Southern Area Forest Fire Compact, which helps facilitate wildfire resources across the 13 Southern states; the Mid-Atlantic Fire Compact (NJ, MD, PA, OH, DE, WV and VA), and the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID. So, when ‘the call’ comes in, we’re able to quickly mobilize forces and respond,” he said.

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “Virginia uses a tiered approach to providing assistance. Our first priority is to the citizens of the Commonwealth. We then support the Southern and Mid-Atlantic compacts followed by response to calls outside of those regions. This ensures our limited resources are available to protect the lives and property of our fellow Virginians and our fellow Americans. Sending some of our well-trained wildland firefighters on out-of-state missions for 14 days is a win-win for Virginia – all the costs are repaid to Virginia by the other states, and our people gain valuable experience that better prepares them to suppress wildfires here in the Commonwealth.”

In addition to the firefighters serving on wildfire strike teams in Florida and North Carolina, VDOF has radio communications, GIS, medical and public information personnel out of state.

2010 Agency Assessment Shows VDOF Well-Prepared

For emergency response agencies, such as VDOF, the components of planning, preparation and response are continually examined at all levels within the agency. These efforts are measured through surveys, and the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security (OSVAHS) uses these surveys to assess and rate agency preparedness. The dedication and quality of work done by VDOF showed as the agency received the highest possible score of 100.

The Virginia Emergency Response Team (VERT) Index is used by agencies to assess their level of preparedness. The index allows agencies to learn best practices from each other by identifying strong performers in each area and plan accordingly to address areas of concern.

The web-based survey was sent to each agency’s Primary Emergency Coordinator’s (ECO). Questions covered the following preparedness components: Physical Security; Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP); Information Security; Vital Records; Fire Planning; Human Resources.

Old Flat State Forest Dedication

The Old Flat State Forest – a 320-acre highland meadow and upland forest with tree species typical of Appalachian forests – has been dedicated as Virginia’s 22nd state forest. The Commonwealth’s newest state forest is located near the summit of Mount Rogers (Virginia’s highest peak) in Grayson County. The property borders a private Christmas tree farm; US Forest Service land, and the Grayson Highlands State Park near the village of Whitetop, Va.

“We’re very excited about the Old Flat State Forest,” said State Forester of Virginia Carl Garrison. “Its location and 5,000-foot elevation will provide a unique opportunity for us to conduct valuable forest research; establish a partnership with the Christmas tree industry – which means jobs and millions of dollars for Virginians; provide a demonstration site for best management practices as they relate to the growing of Christmas trees; enable us to protect and improve the Fraser fir seed source, and could become a site to re-establish the American chestnut and the red spruce.”

Old Flat SF was acquired by the VDOF to provide a site for a second-cycle Fraser fir seed orchard and research opportunities for high-elevation tree species. The property will be jointly managed by the Mount Rogers Area Christmas Tree Growers’ Association and the VDOF.

Forestry Camp Wrap-Up

The top-scoring camper, Gus Hollberg from Staunton, is pictured on the left beside counselor Drew Arnn. Hollberg received a $100 savings bond for his achievement.

The 65th annual Holiday Lake Forestry Camp was another fun-filled, learning-packed success. Fifty-two campers from 33 counties and cities participated this year.

Camp's core classes were Tree Identification and Forest Measurements; Sustainable Forestry and Wildlife Management; Forest Ecology and Management, and Environmental Protection, Reproducing the Forest and Tree Improvement. Other camp experiences included a field trip to Greif-Riverville paper mill, arboriculture demonstrations and wildlife presentations. Exploratory short courses, Lumberjack competition, sports and swimming rounded out the program.

The campers took home excellent resource materials, including tree identification books. The top 10 campers (as scored academically throughout the week) received awards of outdoor recreation supplies. The top-scoring camper, Gus Hollberg from Staunton, also received a $100 savings bond for his achievement.

This year's program included a Forestry Field Day for campers' parents. Twenty parents experienced short versions of tree identification and forest measurement classes and toured Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest to see forest management in action. They took home information to use on their own property and to share with neighbors.

Donations from 33 organizations, businesses and individuals - totaling more than $14,000- allowed campers to attend at minimal personal cost.

Fire Academy Celebrates 11th Year

More than 350 volunteer and paid firefighters from across the Commonwealth and five other states gathered at Longwood University (Farmville, Va.) to take part in a training program that prepared them for the challenges associated with fighting wildland fires.

Participants enrolled in one or more of the 11 courses that range from basic wildland firefighting and effective use of chainsaws to advanced tactics and the use of bulldozers/fireplows in the suppression of wildland fires.

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “The Wildland Fire Academy is the most comprehensive training program we offer each year. The more techniques we can teach firefighters the better prepared they will be to safely attack and suppress wildland fires. And that will help reduce the loss of life and property.”

While many of the courses were classroom based, several involve field work. These included: the chainsaw operations course, where participants learned how to properly fell trees during a wildfire, and the bulldozer/fireplow course, where participants operated these important pieces of heavy equipment over and through a variety of obstacles they will encounter in the woods. In addition to the obstacle course they worked through during the day, “students” in this course also attacked and suppressed – using only their bulldozer/fireplows – a real wildfire at night as part of the program.

Jessica D. Shively of Fredericksburg was the recipient of the Alex Williamson Honorarium. The award, which covers the Academy’s registration fee, is named in honor of a long-time VDOF employee who trained hundreds of firefighters during his distinguished 35-year career.

The Virginia Department of Forestry has just 245 employees, and the Agency is responsible for 15.7 million acres of forestland (62 percent of Virginia’s land base). Funding for the Virginia Wildland Fire Academy is provided by the National Park Service and the US Forest Service.

Oakley Farm Honored For Good “Work”

An education program in Spotsylvania County has received the Virginia Mathematics & Science Coalition's “2011 Programs that Work Award. The award was presented to Jean Young and Dawn Renee during a banquet at the Science Museum of Virginia.

The “Oakley Farm Meaningful Watershed Education Experience” provides lessons and hands-on experience about agriculture, forestry and land management. The experience consists of three phases: the preparation phase, the action phase, and the follow-up phase. In the preparation phase, the teachers receive staff development training to learn hands-on science activities and how to use kits about water quality monitoring; instruction to promote stewardship; and social awareness of environmental issues within the community. The students participate in pre-visit activities. During the action phase, students spend a full day at Oakley Farm where they participate in hands-on activities designed to raise the student’s social awareness, stimulate observation, motivate critical thinking, and develop problem-solving skills. Following the visit to Oakley Farm, the students and teachers discuss their experience.

Project administrators meet with partners, teachers, and volunteers to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Teachers have expressed that they are more confident about their ability to teach in outdoor environments and more likely to do so.

Study Supports Minimum Width For SMZs

Forestry Best Management Practices (BMP) focus on the sediment-trapping benefits streamside forests because sediment is generally considered to be the most important type of water pollutant associated with forest operations in the United States. State Forestry agencies have adopted the use of streamside management zones (SMZs) as part of their standard BMP guidelines because research indicates that SMZs potentially have several positive effects on environmental quality.

Recommended widths for SMZs for sediment protection vary. The objectives of a recent study were to compare the effects of SMZ widths and thinning levels on sediment moving through SMZs. Bill Lakel, water quality program manager for VDOF, coauthored the study titled “Sediment Trapping by Streamside Management Zones of Various Widths after Forest Harvest and Site Preparation.” You can view the study on our website at

Smart Yard Care - Big Rewards from Small Investments

This handbook is designed to provide homeowners with information about environmentally-friendly yard management practices that also reduce fire risk. The handbook includes tips on topics such as wildlife, invasive species and home protection. One chapter in this book, called Fire Safety at the Wildland/Urban Interface, is available online and the entire Smart Yard Care handbook can be ordered from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

To learn more about Smart Yard Care visit: