Forest firefighter gives home protection advice

Millboro Springs, va. –

This year has been an exceptional one for wildfires in the Allegheny Highlands with over 40,000 acres burned. The dry weather in April accompanied by several days of high winds led to several fire events that sorely tested our fire-fighting resources. If circumstances had been just a little different, homes could have been destroyed and lives lost. John Wright of the Virginia Department of Forestry office in Bath County was involved in fighting several fires earlier this year. He had a message for the 20 participants in this year’s Mountain Soil and Water Conservation Tour.

“How many of you live in a fireproof house,” asked John Wright. “How many of you live in a concrete city and you’re never going to worry about having a wildland fire possibly threaten your home? None of us probably. If you have grass in your from yard – as I’ve had it described to me – east Texas had three inches of grass and seven foot flame lengths coming through their yards because the roots were actually burning off. They said the soil was sinking four to six inches because the fire was burning the roots and the organic material on top with five to seven foot flame lengths. And so we were seeing the people’s homes were being threatened,” he said.

One of the fires last April was near Millboro and resulted when a homeowner burned off some leaves and debris in his yard.

“It didn’t take but one small, little mistake of a lapse of memory to go Well yeah they might be calling for high wind and low humidity, so maybe I better keep that doggone lighter or match in my pocket, because once I start this thing, something could happen’,” said Mr. Wright. “The description was that a tornado got into this little fire that the gentleman was burning, and it was less than twenty by twenty (feet). And he says, the next thing you know, he says, I looked around and there was fire everywhere because that little tornado came and it can pick up embers and throw them fifty to seventy-five yards in all directions. So that would be like turning a dozen people loose and throwing fire everywhere. So, if you don’t have the correct equipment, it’s going to get away from you,” he said.

Mr. Wright continues with some suggestions for homeowners to make their homes less vulnerable to wildfires.

“Folks, get your garden hoses,” said Mr.Wright. “Get your leaf blowers out and start preparing for yourself. If, the Hot Springs Fire Department had had one fire call before the other one had got started and they were somewhere in the other part of the county, now let’s change the scenario. What do you think it would have looked like? A lot worse that fire would have jumped 612 and it would have threatened, what, twelve to fifteen homes. People have wood piles, grass, debris that is capable of burning,” he said.

Have some extra garden hoses on hand. Keep the area near your house free of combustible materials like leaves grass, weeds, brush and mulch. Keep wood piles away from your house. In addition, take special care with ashes and embers.

“I’ve got a young many that lives in Highland County and he tells me I dumped those ashes out on ten inches of snow’,” Mr. Wright said. “I said Yessir, that was what, twelve days ago. Yup. And those ashes are dead cold. Yup.’ I said would you care to stick your hand in those ashes?’ An arson investigator came up and took a look at it. They ran all kinds of test looking for chemicals like accelerants such as gasoline, kerosene or whatever. They couldn’t find a thing. And he finally asked me, he said what do you think’ and I said right there, right in that little old ash pile that is twelve days old, it is red hot’. And I took a shovel and lifted it up and stuck some cardboard paper a little heavier than this envelope type of paper, and I said it will have holes burned in it, if there is anything hot whatsoever’. In less than ten seconds the darned thing burst into flames. And then the investigator looked at the young man and he said I think we know where the fire got started’,” said Mr. Wright.

Take those ashes and float them in a bucket of water. Make sure they are completely out before you put them on the ground. So, take precautions and be prepared for the next fire season.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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