by Nora Edinger
CHARLESTON -- State officials are asking hunters to help them control forest fires during what has been a particularly dry autumn.
A key request released Tuesday is for hunters to observe a ban on open burning, including campfires and charcoal. Hunters may still use liquid- and gas-fired stoves, grills or lanterns with caution.
"Make sure everyone in your party knows about the outdoor burning ban and make sure everyone abides by it," said Coy Mullins, fire supervisor for the state Division of Forestry.
Steve Young, a spokesman for the division, said there have been 543 forest fires in West Virginia since Oct. 19. More than 60,000 acres have burned.
One fire last week was averted by a hunter, who spotted an arsonist at work in a Wyoming County and extinguished the blaze before it could spread, Mullins said.
Hunters with cell phones or radios are urged to call 911 if they spot a fire.
Mullins additionally cautioned smokers to thoroughly extinguish their cigarettes and all-terrain vehicle riders to avoid extremely dry areas.
"The forests are so dry that exhaust from ATVs could ignite a forest fire," Mullins said. "Please be aware of your surroundings and your equipment."
Fred McMullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said November is about 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches below normal rainfall as of Tuesday. The annual rainfall is still above average, however, he said.
McMullen said the eastern U.S. is expected to get into a more active weather pattern by early next week, with showers expected on Tuesday.
Young said the open-burning ban will not be lifted until there is sufficient rainfall.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.