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Virginia Warns of Dangerous Wildfires with Smokey Bear Awareness Month

Research shows that climate change has influenced longer wildfire seasons across the country. (Adobe stock)
Research shows that climate change has influenced longer wildfire seasons across the country. (Adobe stock)
August 8, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. – August is Smokey Bear Awareness Month in Virginia, as the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the icon's wildfire prevention campaign.

In the United States, 85% of wildfires are started by human activity. In Virginia, that number is 95%.

Scientists say climate change and warming temperatures are creating an even longer fire season in the country.

Chris Thomsen, regional forester with Virginia's Department of Forestry, has noticed a shift during fire season.

"My personal experience is things are changing, and I guess we can all debate what the reason for that change is, but here in Virginia we do tend to have droughtier droughts and stormier storms,” he points out. “So there is a change."

Research shows that warmer temperatures and drier conditions can help wildfires spread and make them harder to put out.

As autumn approaches, people need to be aware that fall and spring are peak wildfire seasons in Virginia, and to take precautions.

In 2019, Virginia already has had 212 fires across 715 acres of land, according to the state's Department of Forestry.

More than half of the forest fires in the Commonwealth are caused by folks burning trash and yard debris.

Thomsen says to use common sense if you want to do a burning.

"You don't burn on windy days,” he stresses. “You don't burn when it's been dry for two weeks and no rain.

“You don't burn without having a bucket of water or a shovel or raking the leaves around. Too many times, people just don't consider what I would consider the obvious when they burn."

Burning trash and debris is more prevalent in rural areas such as southwest Virginia. Thomsen says if a perpetrator is caught burning trash carelessly, it can be considered a misdemeanor, resulting in a $500 fine.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA