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A wild month for wild fires

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By John Barnhart

    March is normally not a particularly bad month for wildfires, according to Bedford Fire Chief Brad Creasy, but this March has been different. Low humidity and strong winds on warm days created good conditions for fire.

    “We’ve been staying busy,” commented Creasy.
    Two weeks ago the county had a string of wildfires during a 12 hour period, on March 11. Creasy said the Bedford Volunteer Fire Department responded to a dozen during that time. He said there were 10 others elsewhere in the county, making it a busy day for the county’s volunteer firefighters. Although there were multiple causes for these fires, many were the result of controlled burns done the previous day. These were still smoldering, a day later, and strong winds rekindled them.
    Bedford also responded to a large wildfire, Saturday, in Cifax, on Old Cifax Road, that burned 25 acres. The fire was reported at 1:30 p. m. and it took 24 hours to extinguish.
    “It took multiple companies to bring that under control,” he said.
    The Virginia Department of Forestry was called in to supervise the final operations. If that fight had gone longer, the Department of Forestry would have brought in outside crews. The county’s volunteer fire departments have primary responsibility for wildfires in Bedford County, but volunteers eventually have to go to their paid jobs. That’s why the Department of Forestry will bring in outside crews to fight multi-day blazes.
    Creasy said people who plan to burn anything outside should be aware of current fire conditions before starting a fire. They should keep in mind that, just because it rained a few days ago, they shouldn’t assume that it’s safe to burn. Everything can dry out quickly.
    Anybody planning to do a controlled burn should report this before doing the burn. This allows local fire departments to know what’s going on. It also allows the landowner to learn if red flag conditions are in effect. Red flag conditions mean that outdoor burning is banned because low relative humidity creates a high risk of the fire getting out of control. Creasy said all the wildfires happened on red flag days.