Forest fires on the rise

Published: Apr. 6, 2011 at 8:19 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2011 at 8:33 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Central Virginia is no stranger to wildfires and if you think there have been more breaking out -- you're right.

Earlier this week a large bush fire broke out in Dinwiddie County. Hundreds of acres are still on fire along Rainey Creek Road near McKenney.

We're actually in the heart of forest fire season and Wednesday foresters showed off everything in their arsenal from planes to helicopters. Forest fires are breaking out earlier and earlier in the spring in recent years and so far this year has been no different.

Dave Milby works for the Department of Forestry and says this year has already seen several large fires.

"We have been busy," Milby said.  "We've had several bad fires intermixed with two or three more moderate days but we've had two or three really terrible days with red flag conditions."

Firefighters have been able to control the fire in Dinwiddie but 500 acres are burning despite this week's rain and so far there's no end in sight.

Heather Dowling was one of the foresters dispatched to the fire in Dinwiddie. She was fighting that blaze until the wee hours of the morning.

"The fire got away from us pretty quickly," she said.  "We were there, we had the equipment there in twenty minutes but the winds were so strong that it progressed pretty fast."

She says this time of year is usually the most dangerous. Low humidity and stiff winds make a lethal cocktail of forest fire conditions, and a lot of people living in this part of the state only makes foresters' jobs more difficult.

"People are moving into the woods and that makes our job even extra difficult," Milby said.  "Where it used to be we were just trying to protect pine trees, now we're protecting homes and lives."

Peak forest fire season lasts until the middle of this month.

Remember how Smoky the Bear says "only you can prevent forest fires"?  Foresters say most forest fires start from people burning debris outside.

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