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Unseasonably dry, warm weather and high fire danger continue

by Darlene J. Taylor

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- October was unseasonably dry throughout much of the eastern part of the country. Mixed with gusty winds and humidity below 25 percent, this type of weather can be a recipe for disaster.

Government-issued warnings and burning bans have been issued from West Virginia through Georgia, due to the high fire danger.

John Victory, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said because it is the dry season an inch of rain could fall one day and three days later it would be dry again.

"It is unfortunately dry and the normal fire weather. Our normal October rainfall is 2.89 inches. We have had only about half that at 1.36 inches," said Victory.

The dry weather is also affecting fall pastures, according to Bruce Loyd, Lewis County extension agent.

"Grass has slowed its growing. Springs and ponds for livestock are drying up or the sources are getting very low. Many have already had to turn to alternative water sources," he said.

Forest and brush fires have destroyed 30,000 acres in West Virginia since July 1.

There were three active fires and 23 controlled fires burning throughout the state as of Tuesday, according to the Division of Forestry.

"That means that only three -- in Raleigh, Mingo and Kanawha counties -- are burning out of control. We are working to bring those under control at this time," said Leslie Fitzwater, communications officer with the Forestry State Headquarters.

Fitzwater said that from July 1 to Nov. 6, there were 464 fires that burned 32,737 acres. From Oct. 29 until Nov. 6 alone, there were 183 fires that consumed 21,765 acres.

These conditions are only going to get worse unless there is a substantial amount of rain, experts say.

"The burning ban is in effect indefinitely until we get measurable rainfall, at least one inch, and preferably a slow, steady rain over a couple of days," said Fitzwater.

The National Weather Service is predicting only a slim chance of rain Thursday evening and warming temperatures throughout the week.

"We are looking at well into the 60s and near 70 by the end of the week. The warming temperatures will increase the fire potential. There is virtually no relief in sight over the next week," Victory said.

Depending on how long the dry weather continues, it may affect how livestock must be fed this winter, said Loyd. "It may affect winter feeding costs."

Loyd said when looking at long-term effects, underground water sources, such as springs and wells, are a part of the extended water table.

"It is not a crisis condition at this time, but many small streams are dry now," said Loyd.

The Division of Forestry is urging citizens to call local authorities if they see an illegal burn or anyone setting a fire. The arson hotline number is (800) 233-FIRE.

Staff writer Darlene Taylor can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at dtaylor@exponent-telegram.com.

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