The West Virginia Division of Forestry is reminding residents to be cautious throughout spring fire season and follow safe burning laws. Officials are also asking for the public's help in solving several arson fires across the state.
From Jan. 1 to March 25, the state reported 312 fires and nearly 3,000 acres burned.
During the same period in 2020, the state counted 158 fires and 632 acres burned, according to a prepared press release.
Debris burning accounts for more than 35 percent of all wildfire occurrence over the past 10 years, according to the DOF.
Spring fire season extends from March 1 through May 31. During this period, burning is prohibited from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The DOF provides Forest Fire Laws on its website.
The weather conditions and the care people take with their fires play important roles in preventing wildfires.
“The slight increase in fire activity this spring can be attributed to drier weather conditions during the month of March,” said Jon T. Wilson, service forester for Tyler and Doddridge counties. “The precipitation experienced over most of the state during February did little to decrease forest fires this spring.
“Just as wet clothes hung outside will dry in an afternoon, so will forest leaf litter and vegetation. One dry and windy March afternoon can dry the fuels in the forest and ready them for combustion.”
The daylight burning ban from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. is based on the presence of dead vegetation and low relative humidity. In spring and fall fire season, relative humidity levels are typically lower than in summer but increase toward evening. Leaf litter absorbs the moisture overnight, making the material less flammable.
“If residents carefully follow the fire laws, we can reduce the numbers of fires,” Wilson said. “The seasonal regulations have been in place for many years and they are very effective in preventing forest fires.”
Losing control of a debris fire can endanger property, wildlife and people.
“In a recent incident, the Division of Forestry unit in command of a wildfire discovered a power pole that was actively burning,” Wilson said. “This power pole carried large transmission lines and would have been lost had Forestry not extinguished it quickly.”
The DOF makes the initial response to forest fires and is in command of the fire until it is completely extinguished. Forestry coordinates the suppression efforts using its own and local county resources.
In many areas, local volunteer fire departments may be called to join fire suppression efforts.
“When these local first responders are busy fighting forest fires, they are out of service to the local community,” he said. “Any county emergencies that occur during this time will have a delayed response from the fire department. It could be the difference between life and death in some cases.”
All Division foresters have authority to issue citations for fire code law violations. Any person or company that has caused a fire on any grass or forest land must reimburse the state for the costs incurred in the suppression of the fire.
Fines for forest fires due to negligence range from $100 to $1,000 with an additional civil penalty of $200.
Arson accounts for approximately 22 percent of West Virginia wildfires.
The DOF is responsible for investigating wild land arson fires. The Division's Special Operations Unit uses certified search dogs and meticulous arson investigation techniques to pursue arsonists. Forestry also enlists the eyes and ears of members of the public.
Forestry investigators are seeking information about the following arson fires:
• Boone County: Two fires on Colony Bay Strip near Wharton on March 4. Those with information about the fires should contact the Region 5 headquarters at 304-743-6186.
• McDowell County: Fire on Big Branch near Coalwood on March 8. Those with information about the fires should contact the Region 4 headquarters at 304-256-6775.
• Coopers Rock State Forest: Anyone with credible information about the March 23 fire. The wildfire burned an estimated 30 acres before it was brought under control. Many of the shelters and other structures in the state forest were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Eleven of these structures have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Those with information about the fire are urged to contact the DOF Region 1 Farmington Office weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 304-825-6983.
• Grant County: Three fires on Williamsport Road near Williamsport on Jan. 9. Those with information about the fires should contact the Region 2 headquarters at 304-822-4512.
• Hardy County: Fire on Oldfield Road near Williamsport on Jan. 9. Those with information about the fires should contact the Region 2 headquarters at 304-822-4512.
• Jefferson County: Fire on Gap View Lane near Ranson on Jan. 23. Those with information about the fire should contact the Region 2 headquarters at 304-822-4512.
• Kanawha County: Wildfire in Kanawha County on 8 Mile Hollow in Campbells Creek on March 13. Those with information about the fire should contact the Region 5 headquarters at 304-743-6186.
• Lincoln County: A fire on Stonecoal near Spurlockville on March 3 and a fire on Friday Road, off of Monday Addition, on March 3. Those with information about the fires should contact the Region 5 headquarters at 304-743-6186.
Anyone with information about arson fires is urged to contact Forestry’s Special Operations Unit Arson Hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE or online at wvforestry.com/report-a-violation.
Additional contact information for WV Forestry’s regional offices can be found at wvforestry.com/contact-us.