The subject of forest fires brings an eerie feeling to most. Living in a state that is highly forested with vast, remote areas of land may add to that feeling.
For me, walking an old burn shows the scars and the healing from one of nature’s most powerful forces — fire.
In my lifetime, I have assisted in containing two forest fires. The first was when I was a child and a fire started in the woods behind our home. The entire community jumped in to assist with carving out firebreaks, and even a large water bucket brigade was formed. I was young and frightened, and I recall being worn out when I hit the bed that evening, hoping that the fire would burn out overnight.
The second fire was when I worked in the park system during college. This fire was still intense, although watching the professionals tackle the issue was like watching a well-oiled machine. I was never so grateful to see the pros work to contain the fire, and I appreciated them and their professional efforts.
According to the Department of Interior’s website, while fire can be destructive, it can also be rejuvenating and a partner to the stewards of our nation’s public lands.
Land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service have fire program responsibilities on more than 700 million acres of lands across the country. Working with fire is just part of the job.
Wildfires can be caused by nature — mostly due to lightning strikes — but the vast majority are caused by humans. Research estimates that nearly 85% of wildland fires in the United States are caused by people. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris or intentional acts of arson.
Fires can also be caused unintentionally by heat and sparks from vehicles and equipment. Public education and personal responsibility can greatly reduce the number of wildfires each year.
As a reminder and in the spirit of education and communication, our West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF) folks would like to remind all of us that the start of West Virginia’s annual spring fire season on March 1 marked the return of burning restrictions to confine their outdoor burning to between the hours of 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Fires set during that time must be put out before 7 a.m.
“Since Jan. 1, we have responded to 162 fires that have burned approximately 1144.1 acres,” WVDOF assistant state forester-fire Jeremy Jones said. “Even though it seems that we have had some wet weather leading up to our spring fire season, I would like to remind everyone that it doesn’t take much sun and wind to dry out our fine fuels that allow fires to spread rapidly.”
Jones said more than 99% of wildfires in West Virginia are caused by people and that burning debris accounts for 35% of all wildfires during the past 10 years.
“Our fire laws protect one of West Virginia’s most valuable resources: our forests,” Jones said. “We urge everyone who burns anything outside to be completely familiar with the guidelines available on our website.”
Statewide burning restrictions will remain in effect until the close of the spring fire season on May 31. For more information, please visit https://wvforestry.com/fire-laws/.
Chris Ellis is a veteran of the outdoors industry. His book “Hunting, Fishing and Family from The Hills of West Virginia” is available at www.wvbookco.com. Contact him at email@example.com.