By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Three separate woods fires threatened nine Pulaski County homes over the weekend.
Brad Wright, Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF) wildfire hazard mitigation specialist, said all three fires were the result of debris burning or the dumping of hot stove ashes. Fire crews protected all of the homes and no one was injured, but Wright urged citizens to use caution when burning or disposing of stove or fireplace ashes, especially now that dying vegetation is drying and leaves are covering the ground.
Fall Wildfire Season runs through Nov. 30, meaning conditions are ideal for wildfires to develop during this time of year.
The first weekend fire occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday in the area of Sherwood Forest off Lee Highway. Wright said Draper and Pulaski fire departments and DOF responded to the half-acre woods fire that threatened three homes. He noted the fire was the result of debris burning that got out of control.
Just 24 hours later, DOF responded along with Newbern and Dublin fire departments to another woods fire caused by debris burning. This fire, on Hall Road at Claytor Lake, burned a half-acre steep woodland area and threatened five homes.
The Hall Road fire was the second of the day for forestry personnel. DOF and Draper Fire Department responded to a fire around 5:30 p.m. Sunday that burned about an acre of steep woodlands off Little Wytheville Road. Wright said personnel from Pulaski County Wildland Fire Crew and Virginia Tech Fire Crew responded to assist with that blaze.
Wright said the Little Wytheville Road fire was started by a common, but dangerous, practice – the outdoor dumping of hot ashes from wood stoves or fireplaces. Last November, an outbuilding and 10 acres burned in Pulaski County as the result of improperly disposed ashes.
Ash fires often result from the disposing party thinking the ashes have cooled. Whether they’re dumped on the ground or placed in a combustible container, forestry officials warn that wood ashes retain enough heat to ignite combustible materials for several days. High winds can uncover hot coals within the ash pile and start a wildfire.
VDOF offers the following tips for handling ashes:
•Store ashes in a metal container that can be tightly closed with a metal lid. Dump ashes into the container. Douse the ashes with water. Place the lid on the container and place the closed container outside your home away from combustible materials. Leave ashes in the container for several days before disposing of them. Wood ash, once completely cooled, can safely be discarded.
•DO NOT store a metal ash container on a deck, in a garage or in any location that may allow heat to transfer from hot coals to nearby flammable items.
•DO NOT place hot ashes in a dumpster because there are combustible materials already in the dumpster.
•DO NOT dispose of ashes in paper, plastic or cardboard containers.
•DO NOT assume ashes are cold and pour them onto the ground (even into a hole) where leaves can blow onto them or the wind can stir up sparks.
•Once you are POSITIVE your container of ashes is “cold,” place them in a pile and prepare your container for the next load.
•Teach other family members about the dangers associated with hot ash disposal.
•Be careful with ashes around areas you might not consider combustible during wetter times, such as mulched flowerbeds and lawns that are drought stricken.
DOF points out that most wildland fires in Virginia are the result of human actions and that using common sense and obeying fire safety rules and laws could prevent them. The most common cause is open burning.
Besides burning an average of 8,000-10,000 acres annually, these wildland fires also result in injuries and death, damage or destruction of buildings and even damage to the environment.
Forestry officials offer the following tips for safe outdoor burning:
•Clear a safety zone that is wide enough to prevent the escape of the fire.
•Keep a supply of water and a rake or shovel readily accessible.
•DO NOT leave a fire unattended (this is state law year round).
•If a fire does escape, call 911 immediately.
•Burn after 4 p.m. (state law Feb. 15 through April 30 of each year). The law applies to campfires, warming fires, brush piles, household trash, stumps, fields of broomstraw and brush or anything capable of spreading fire.
The law provides for a penalty of up to $500, plus payment of court costs and fire suppression costs if the fire escapes.
•Burn when the wind is calm.
•Obey forest fire laws and air pollution regulations.