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High winds fan wildfire

by Tom Chillemi

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Forester technician Alan Sutherlin uses a bulldozer to cut a fire line around Monday’s wildfire near Hartfield. Burning before 4 p.m. is prohibited in Virginia until May 1. To see more photos, click here.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
A wildfire burned about four acres off Stamper’s Bay Road on Monday near Hartfield, said Virginia State Forester Ken Sterner.

The fire started in a land clearing debris ash pile that had been part of a controlled burn after the snow of March 1. The landowner, Joey C. Jones General Contractor, assumed the fire was out, said Sterner. However, hot coals at the bottom of the pile were fanned by high winds and the fire re-ignited on Monday about 3:30 p.m.

The fire spread into a neighbor’s woods. Although it burned the underbrush and leaves, there was no major damage, said Sterner.

To keep the fire from spreading, forest technician Alan Sutherlin used a bulldozer to cut a fire line around the fire, and to push downed trees and brush away from the fire.

Jones also used his bulldozer and loader to help contain the fire and get it under control.

Members of the Hartfield and Deltaville fire departments responded. “They did an excellent job,” said Sterner. “We appreciate the volunteer firefighters’ help.”

At a dormant fire site, many times the smoke and heat are not noticed, but then the humidity drops and the wind stirs the smoldering remains, which erupt into flames, Sterner explained.

A factor, said Sterner, was the recent low humidity (about 20%), which tends to dry out leaves and pine needles. 

Sterner said on Tuesday the current higher humidity should extinguish embers. Rain is forecast for Friday and the weekend.

Spring burning ban

Sterner said that spring is the busy season for wildfires in Virginia. A combination of dry conditions, large amounts of dry grass, and windy conditions make burning risky. “About 95 percent of all wildfires are caused by humans,” he noted.

Until May 1, no burning is permitted until after 4 p.m. if the fire is within 300 feet of woodland brush or fields that contain dry grass or flammable material, Sterner said. No new fires can be set, nor can fuel be added after midnight.

Fires cannot be left unattended if they are within 150 feet of woodlands or dry grass. Included in the restrictions are camp fires, warming fires and trash fires.

Anyone who is burning debris should notify the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 758-2779 so authorities know it is a controlled fire and not an emergency, said Sterner.

posted 03.11.2009

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