Smyth County has declared a total burn ban.
According to Charlie Harrington, the county’s emergency management coordinator, the ban prohibits all outdoor burning until further notice.
Harrington explained that the decision was made after conversations with National Weather Service officials in Blacksburg and several local fire officials, who all agreed that dry conditions in the county and across the region are sufficient to easily cause fires.
A small ember from a fire could float away from its source and make contact with dry material, explained Harrington, who said conditions are getting so dry that the entire state of West Virginia is under a burn ban and many counties and towns in this area are issuing similar bans.
On Monday, neighboring Washington County issued its own ban. Officials there said, “Experience has shown that suspending open burning is an effective way of preventing fire escapes and allows a quick-fire agency response…. Although all fires cannot be prevented through a burn suspension, their numbers can be significantly reduced. Washington County Department of Emergency Management wants to remind everyone that it is each individual’s responsibility to help prevent fires that destroy lives, property, and our wildland.”
Harrington said that Smyth County’s burning ban would be in place until the National Weather Service reports that sufficient moisture has returned to the ground and trees.
The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies Smyth County and much of the commonwealth as “abnormally dry.”
The monitor’s summary of conditions said, “Rapidly intensifying ‘flash drought’ — attributed in part to extreme late-summer heat — continued to afflict many areas from the lower Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States to the Gulf Coast.”
For the Southeast, it said, “Intense late-summer heat and acute short-term dryness led to a sharp increase in drought intensity and coverage. Excessive heat (95-101°F) and pronounced short-term rainfall deficits (30-day rainfall totaling less than 25 percent of normal) heightened evapotranspiration rates and soil moisture losses, resulting in quickly escalating drought impacts (often referred to as a ‘flash drought’). It should be noted that ‘flash drought’ often occurs more quickly (in terms of impacts) than the data indicates.”