Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Busy Weekend for Local Fire Departments

Listen to the full story here

Fires that scorched through more than 4,000 acres of land in Virginia over the weekend were finally contained Monday. The fires occurred in several counties including New Kent, Caroline and Henrico and spanned several days. The more than 150 brush fires tore through more than 4,000 acres of private land in the counties and it is estimated that they damaged nearly 50 buildings.

The brush fires were so large and great in quantity that residents in Richmond could both smell and see smoke in the air.

Fire crews from New Kent and Caroline counties were joined by the Henrico fire department to help contain the blaze. New Kent county fire chief Tommy Hicks says that an initial fire in New Kent county quickly spread to other areas.

"In New Kent county, the damage for this particular incident equated to about 70 acres. The challenge that we face were all the wind conditions and movement of the fire, but it actually hit 4 geographic areas around the Bottoms Bridge area of interstate 64."

Hicks says that the fire was able to build for some time in the intial New Kent blaze before it spread to other counties.

"Unfortunately, the call that occurred in New Kent on that Saturday afternoon resulted from a tree falling across power lines deep in a forested area, which allowed the fire to get some momentum and forward progress prior to the arrival of someone initiating a 9-1-1 emergency response."

While brush fires are not all uncommon for the area this time of year, dry conditions and high winds over the weekend cause the blaze to spread faster than usual. The magnitude and span of the blaze make it the second worst brush fire in 50 years in Virginia, just behind a blaze that occurred in February 2008. Dan Goff, who studies geography and meteorology at Virginia Tech, says that Virginia's dryer than normal conditions have made it a particularly tough time of year.

"Conditions since the beginning of the year have been unseasonably dry, we've been running a rainfall deficit since January 1st and having the combination of very, very dry soil and very, very dry fuel, we've had lots of dead leaves on the ground, lots of dead vegetation from the fall. So that's all had a chance to dry out and make it very easy to burn."

Due to the conditions during this time of year, Virginia has had a burn-ban implemented since the 1940's, that prohibits the burning of brush or debris before 4 p.m. when it is said wind conditions have calmed and humidity has risen.

Richmond Fire Chief Shawn Jones said that due to the fires we've seen this year, it's recommended that burning not take place at all. He says that burning anything in the City of Richmond is not allowed, unless a permit has been given. However, certain types of fires are allowed in certain circumstances.

"Grills, of course, those individuals who might have some type of decorative device outside where they can go sit outside at night time when it's cool, if you have some type of decorative device going on, but certainly you're not allowed to burn any trash, any leaves or anything of that nature, so that's what the burn ban is for."

The burn ban is in effect through April.

-Brad Fulton

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