Dry conditions, low humidity and high winds are the right conditions for a fast moving wildfire. I watched the news as they reported on the fire in Rockbridge County. I do not know yet how this fire started, but some of the causes include: improperly discarded smoking materials, campfires that were not properly extinguished, arson fires, energized power lines that come down due to high winds and downed trees, and a barrage of other causes. The bottom line is that when conditions are right, it does not take much.
If you live in the path of one of these fires, you must be prepared to evacuate. These windy days that we have been experiencing lend to rapid fire spread. Fire not only moves along the ground, but also can advance vertically and horizontally in pine plantations. I can remember numerous fires in my career that crossed roadways and railways.
Fire departments and the forestry division are needed to extinguish the larger fires. Fire departments are able to provide multiple units and personnel, while forestry responds with bulldozers, hummers and they also have access to helicopters that are set up for water drops. In the Rockbridge County fire, mutual aid is being called in from surrounding jurisdictions, as well as forest firefighting crews from around the country.
The learning point to this article is that we all need to do everything possible to keep a fire from starting on these kinds of days, as well as any other day for that matter. We have been fortunate in this area of the state that we have not had fires in areas where houses are destroyed, due to the denseness of woodlands and houses intertwined in these woodlands. Chesterfield Fire & EMS dubbed these areas as Wildland Interface. If you live in one of these areas, you need to know it.
One of the things that contributes to rapid fire spread are the large number of downed trees, caused by tropical storms that have passed through our area. The longer these trees are down, the dryer they become. It is important that you keep underbrush, leaves and fallen trees away from your home. You will want some type of firebreak between your house and woodlands. Some people like it rustic, but give yourself a chance. I never understood why people would build houses with cedar shingles in wooded areas. I guess that it is the mindset that a fire “will never start close to my house.”
It is important to have a plan of where you will take your family if you ever find yourself in the direct path of one of these fires. I have seen some take a stand, trying to prevent their home from being destroyed, but I do not recommend that tactic. If the fire department and forestry division have not kept a fire from spreading toward your home, what makes you think that you can take a stand, armed with a garden hose; houses can be rebuilt.