CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A lack of summer rains could mean a less colorful fall in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, but it also has Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) officials worried about the likelihood of forest fires.

VDOF had responded to 230 fires across the commonwealth by September 1. Another 80 fires have occurred since then.

"We're going into this fall dryer than we have seen in over 20 years," said Fred Turck, manager of resource protection prevention branch.

With close to 50% of the state experiencing moderate drought conditions, the probably of forest fires is up. Thirteen counties west of Charlottesville have already issued burn bans.

"People just need to be aware its really dry,” Turck said. “Something as innocent as parking your vehicle on a pile of dry leaves and having the muffler hit them could catch the leaves on fire and cause a problem."

The Virginia Department of Forestry says the mountains should begin to show some orange and red foliage in the next two weeks, but it won't be as vibrant as in years past and the colors won't stick around as long.

10/07/2019 Release from the Virginia Department of Forestry:

(Charlottesville, VA) The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and federal partners within the state are preparing for what could be a severe fall wildfire season across Virginia. The fire danger is increasing each day the state goes without a widespread, significant rain. Some isolated areas that have been getting showers are not as critical, but most of Virginia has not been so fortunate.

“This is one of the driest falls we’ve seen in Virginia during the past 20 years,” said State Forester Rob Farrell. “The potential for an increased number of fires and more complex fires is significant.”

According to Phil Manuel, a meteorologist with the Blacksburg National Weather Service, many areas have gone more than 25 days without significant rainfall. That, combined with the lower humidity levels that are typical this time of year, increase the risk of wildfires.

“The short term forecast (6-10days) indicates a continuation of this dry spell and the long-range through the end of October does not look much better,” he added.

This time of the year there is always the possibility of a tropical storm to bring rain to Virginia, but so far there are none on the horizon. Virginia’s fall wildfire season typically runs from October 15 until the end of November or early December. It has been several years since the traditional fall wildfire season has begun facing such dry conditions.

As of October 7, more than 24 localities in Virginia have enacted a county-wide ban on all outdoor burning. These localities are mainly located in southwest Virginia, and this number will likely increase over the next several days as the drought continues.

“We support each county’s decision to take the proactive step of establishing burn bans,” said VDOF Director of Fire and Emergency Response John Miller. ”Placing restrictions on burning is not a task easily taken by the county government, but if this prevents a single wildfire from occurring, it will be worth it. One never knows if that one fire prevented could have also saved a life.”

The VDOF asks all citizens, especially those who live in counties with a burn ban in place, to obey all local restrictions and postpone any burning until we get a significant rainfall event and the burn bans are removed. If you live in any area that does not have any restrictions on burning, please, be extra careful.

  • Don’t burn on windy days
  • Keep your burn piles small,
  • Have water and tools nearby,
  • Never leave your fire unattended.
  • If you are burning and your fire escapes, call 911 immediately.

“How this season turns out remains to be seen, “said Farrell, “But the potential for a severe fire season is very real. VDOF personnel have ramped up preparedness and we urge the public to do their part to help reduce the number and severity of fires this fall.”