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Mecklenburg County burn ban under consideration as drought persists / October 09, 2019

Mecklenburg County may soon be under a burn ban because of lack of rain.

The ban, once implemented, prohibits all open burning because of serious wildfire hazard.

County Administrator Wayne Carter said the issue of whether to implement a county-wide ban will be discussed Wednesday night during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors EMS Committee and is on the agenda for a vote by the full board on Tuesday, Oct. 15. “Based on current conditions,” Carter said he expects the Board will implement the ban, and it will remain in place until the area receives a significant rain event.

According to the State Fire Marshal’s office, it is up to each Virginia locality to decide whether to implement such a ban. There is, however, a Virginia law that allows the governor to enact a burning ban that covers all state and private lands, when there is an increased risk of wildfires.

Carter noted on Monday, “Our best chance for rain is today, and we have sunny skies.” About two-thirds of Mecklenburg County is in a moderate drought, and the remaining third, particularly along the southern border, is in severe drought.

That, combined with the lower humidity levels that are typical this time of year, increases the risk of wildfires.

Since July 1, Mecklenburg County has received a total of 6.3 inches of rain, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records. Most of that came in July. No rainfall totals have been registered in the county since Aug. 25.

As of Oct. 1, there is an above-normal significant wildfire potential for all of Virginia. The National Interagency Fire Center says the designation “indicates a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildland fires will occur.” The agency predicts above normal wildfire potential will continue through December, fueled by the pre-existing warmth and drier than average conditions, with drought conditions that extend from Maryland to the Florida Panhandle.

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and federal partners announced Monday that they were preparing for what could be a severe fall wildfire season across Virginia, noting that “the fire danger is increasing each day the state goes without a widespread, significant rain.”

“This is one of the driest falls we’ve seen in Virginia during the past 20 years,” said State Forester Rob Farrell. “The potential for an increased number of fires and more complex fires is significant.”

According to Phil Manuel, a meteorologist with the Blacksburg National Weather Service, many areas have gone more than 25 days without significant rainfall. “The short-term forecast (6-10 days) indicates a continuation of this dry spell and the long-range through the end of October does not look much better,” he added.

This time of the year, there is always the possibility of a tropical storm to bring rain to Virginia, but so far there are none on the horizon.

Virginia’s fall wildfire season typically runs from Oct. 15 until the end of November or early December. It has been several years since the traditional fall wildfire season has begun facing such dry conditions.

As of Oct. 7, more than 24 localities in Virginia have enacted a county-wide ban on all outdoor burning. These localities are mainly located in southwest Virginia, and this number will likely increase over the next several days as the drought continues. Neighboring Halifax County has enacted a burning ban.

“We support each county’s decision to take the proactive step of establishing burn bans,” said VDOF Fire and Emergency Response director John Miller. ”Placing restrictions on burning is not a task easily taken by the county government, but if this prevents a single wildfire from occurring, it will be worth it. One never knows if that one fire prevented could have also saved a life.”

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