A Dry Summer Brings Wildfires

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Property owned by Westvaco in the Laurel Creek area of Wood County, was one of 50 acres in the area hit Friday and Saturday by wildfires.

Had it not been such a wet spring, we might have seen similar fires all summer. But three months of virtually rainless weather are catching up with us.

"We've heard of a lot of smaller fires this summer due to unnatural causes," says local forester Gerald Waybright. "If you have a spark, it's going to cause a fire."

Last year, fires burned up nearly 75,000 acres in the Mountain State. A lot of them happened prior to the fall fire season.

"We haven't made up our deficit from two years ago in groundwater," Waybright says. "It's real dry right now, and if we don't get more rain before the first of October, we're going to be hurting as far as wildfires."

As of now, no burning bans have been issued. But that may change, as we approach the fire season, which begins in October.

Waybright suggests being extra cautious if you're burning outdoors.

An important reminder is: NEVER leave any fire unattended.

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Taming a Wild Fire

  • Fueled by summer temperatures and dry conditions, millions of acres of America's forests burn each year. Wildland firefighters are faced with the difficult task of containing the sprawling blazes while withstanding intense heat, poor visibility and perils of the wilderness.

  • A combined effort of agencies within the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior includes thousands of full-time firefighters and volunteers, a fleet of engines, planes and helicopters and an array of technology ranging from infrared imaging to shovels.

  • There are many ways to fight a fire in the air. Specially trained firefighters, called smokejumpers, parachute into otherwise inaccessible areas of a fire during the initial stages of the attack.

  • When landing is not an options, "helitack" crews use equipment to lower slings and firefighters to the surface.

  • Large aircraft drop water or retardant in a long string to create a line. Pink dye allows the pilot to see where it lands.

  • Planes equipped with infrared mapping systems make flights before sunrise and after sunset to locate hot spots in a fire.

  • Helicopters make repeated drops, filling buckets at nearby lakes or water containers.

  • On the ground, highly trained firefighters are assigned the toughest parts of a fire. There are more than 60 hotshot crews nationwide, make up of nearly 1,400 firefighters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.