Spring fire season: Will this year be worse?

By Ros Runner - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's open burning restrictions kicked in this week. And with all the brush fires we've already seen -- it's easy to understand why. But this season may present a higher fire danger than normal.

Who can forget the images of brush fires erupting throughout Central Virginia just two days ago.  Abnormally dry soil, bone dry air, much warmer than normal temperatures, and gusts up to 50 miles per hour all conspired to rapidly spread these fires, even endangering a day care center in eastern Henrico County.

So is this really so unusual? Not really. By this time of year, we start to see more frequent bouts of higher winds as warm spring air is displacing the winter chill.    And in winter, humidity levels are lower -- the grass, brush, twigs, sticks and decaying leaves have been drying out all winter long -- and ready to ignite.

The fire danger usually goes down when new plants grow in the spring.  But not always. This year, some parts of the state are facing another drought. And that can keep the fire risk alive well into the spring and even summer months.

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that much of the western Piedmont of Virginia is now experiencing moderate drought conditions.  For Richmond and areas east of Interstate 95 away from the coast, soil conditions are considered abnormally dry.

And this could get worse in the weeks ahead if we don't get any rain.  We are already two inches behind in 2011 and it's been more than 10 days since we've recorded any measurable precipitation.

And our prospects aren't looking good for any appreciable rain over the next several days.

With temperatures expected to soar again by Friday and winds expected to increase ahead of an approaching front, brush fires will again be a serious threat.

And as for those burn restrictions -- from now until the end of April -- open burning is banned between midnight and 4 p.m.

State law also prohibits burning within 300 feet of woodlands, fields or any other possible fuel source.

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