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West Virginia officials issue burning laws reminder

CHARLESTON — As spring brings more sunny days and people going outside more to enjoy outdoor activities, the West Virginia Division of Forestry wants to remind the public to be cautious throughout the spring fire season and follow safe burning laws.

Spring fire season extends from March 1 through May 31. During this period, burning is prohibited from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some of the WVDOF Forest Fire Laws include that a fire must be totally extinguished before leaving for any period of time. Commercial permits to burn during the prohibited periods may be issued by the WVDOF.

Between Jan. 1 and March 25, 2021, the state has reported 312 fires and nearly 3,000 acres burned. During the same period in 2020, the state counted 158 fires and 632 acres burned. Debris burning accounts for more than 35 percent of all wildfire occurrences over the past 10 years.

One reason for the increase in fire activity in the spring is due to March’s drier weather conditions, according to 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. and 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.

The WVDOF 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.

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.

The WVDOF is responsible for investigating wildland arsons. 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.

Arson accounts for approximately 22 percent of West Virginia wildfires.

Anyone with information about arsons can contact Forestry’s Special Operations Unit by calling the arson hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE, or by reporting online at wvforestry.com/report-a-violation. Additional contact information for WV Forestry’s regional offices can be found at wvforestry.com/contact-us.

Tyler Bennett can be reached at tbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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