Fire Season May Be Extreme

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

September 21, 2005

Hurricanes and tropical storms have been on everyone's minds the past few weeks, but we haven't felt any of the effects right here in Charlottesville. This may seem like a good thing, but in fact it could mean something much worse.

The worst fire season in local history was fall of 2001--in a five week period more than a 1,000 fires burned 10,000 acres. This year, conditions are similar if not worse.

"At this point in time of the year, we're actually drier than we were in 2001, so from the forestry perspective and from the wildfire perspective, looking ahead we are very concerned at this point," said John Miller of the Department of Forestry.

Some call it a drought while others say we are recovering from several very dry years. But either way conditions are ripe for fires.

"Certainly the drought adds to the situation by making more fuel available to burn which again increases the overall intensity of the fire and just makes it more difficult to control," Miller said.

The lack of moisture in the soil shows that we are about 4.5 to 6.5 inches under normal rainfall.

The fall fire season starts in three weeks and could be extremely violent.

"The tropical moisture that has impacted the East coast and the Gulf states has not made it's way into Virginia. So assuming that pattern holds true, things are looking not so good going into the fall," said Miller.

Debris burning is the leading cause of fires in Virginia.

"It's a concern for us because any fire that escapes burns more readily and spreads quicker than fires do when conditions are more moist," said James Barber, Plan Reviewer for Albemarle County Fire Rescue.

We've had many humid days this year, which give hope that moisture will actually seep in before the fall fire season which starts October 15th.

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