Drought, warm temps contribute to increased wildfire potential


Photo Credit: yelantsevv

Virginians should be prepared for an increase in wildfire activity, as drought conditions worsen in the state, according to Virginia Tech’s Adam Coates.

“Heat, oxygen, and fuel are needed to create fire. When it’s hot outside with little moisture, fuels present at a given location become ‘more readily available’ to burn, meaning that they are holding onto less moisture and may be readily consumed if and when they are ignited,” said Coates, an assistant professor of forest fire ecology and management in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech.

The fire danger is increasing each day the state goes without a widespread, significant rain.

“Scattered rain this past week did little to reduce the risk long term,” said Coates, whose research focuses on topics such as restoration ecology, fuels, fire behavior, silviculture, soils, wildlife habitat, and water quality. “Virginia is already drier this year than in 2016, a year in which we saw an expansive southeastern wildfire season.”

An added feature this time of year is that we also increase total available fuel because leaves and other tree debris are being shed. This combination of decreased moisture and increased fuel is certainly a good recipe to increase wildfire potential.

“We typically pick up a fair amount of wind this time of year, as well, as fronts change and pass over the ridge and valley. Wind can carry fire more rapidly across the landscape and lead to increased fuel consumption when a fire occurs,” said Coates.


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