Dry spell sparks burn bans, warning

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Persistent dry conditions have prompted the issuing of open-air burning bans for the Virginia counties of Carroll and Patrick and strong warnings in Surry County, where no such ban has been instituted — yet.

“It’s very dry here, but as of yesterday (Wednesday) the state Forest Service had not issued a ban,” Surry Fire Marshal Doug Jones said Thursday of the present status for it and neighboring North Carolina counties.

In the absence of an official suspension of outdoor fires, which Jones hopes will be issued for Surry soon, he is urging extreme caution.

“We’re advising people to be very cautious and just not to burn unless they absolutely have to because it is extremely dry,” the fire marshal said.

The culprit is a severe absence of rainfall in the region, as evidenced by only 0.03 inches of precipitation recorded so far in Mount Airy this month, according to a spokesman at F.G. Doggett Water Plant where local weather conditions are monitored.

Less than 1 inch of rainfall was measured in the city for the month of October, a condition mirrored around the region.

And there is little chance of conditions changing during the next couple of weeks, Jones and other officials say, with only a slight chance of precipitation in the forecast, including 20 percent this Saturday and 30 percent next Wednesday.

“Definitely we’re encouraging everybody to be extremely careful,” Jones stressed.

On Nov. 7, the increased fire risk prompted the N.C. Forest Service to issue a ban on all open burning and cancel all burning permits for the western North Carolina counties of Alexander, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey.

Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties were added to the list on Thursday.

Virginia bans

While no burning ban has been put into effect for Surry County so far, officials in both Carroll and Patrick counties implemented bans this week which will be in place until further notice.

Their respective prohibitions on open-air burning are applicable to public and private property and will remain in effect until Carroll and Patrick receive sufficient precipitation to reduce fire probability.

In declaring a local emergency in conjunction with the bans, emergency management coordinators in those counties cited fire hazard conditions that pose “extreme” danger to citizens and public safety personnel who respond to related calls.

Experience has shown that suspending open burning is an effective way of preventing fires from escaping and allows a quick fire agency response, especially as the area continues to experience drier weather.

Although all fires cannot be prevented through a burn suspension, the number of woodland and brush fires can be significantly reduced, officials say.

The declaration of local emergencies in Carroll and Patrick due to dry conditions was in accordance with a section of law in the Code of Virginia, according to announcements from Everett Lineberry and Steve Allen, their respective county emergency management coordinators.

In conjunction with the burning ban, the Carroll County Department of Emergency Management is reminding the public that it is each individual’s responsibility to help prevent fires that destroy lives, property and wildlife areas.

The ban also puts on alert the response and recovery programs of all applicable local and inter-jurisdictional emergency operation plans should activation be warranted.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce


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