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Start of fall fire season prompts landowners to take extra steps to protect homes

Published: Oct. 9, 2020 at 7:23 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Oct. 5-9 is National Fire Safety Week and a good time to make sure your house has all the right precautions in place.

Regional forester Chris Thomsen said fire-wising your home and land is the first step in preventing fires. You want to make sure things that are flammable or burnable are picked up around your house to decrease your risk of experiencing a tragedy.

“You want to rake your leaves," he said. "You want to keep them away from the house and off the roof. Soon people are going to want to be using fireplaces. It’s getting cold. Make sure the ashes are dead out before you scatter them outside.”

You also want to make sure whether you’re burning leaves or having a campfire, the ashes are watered and cool to the touch before you leave them for the night.

“You’ll come home and find the fireman probably in your backyard saving your house," Thomsen said.

Spring and fall are the two most dangerous seasons for fires because there’s less moisture in the air and dry foliage on the ground.

“And if there’s not moisture in the air things can burn," Thomsen explained. "And as the leaves and everything start to turn brown and we get our frost and the grass turns brown, all of the sudden we have fuel that we didn’t have a few weeks ago.”

It’s important to pay attention to the changing weather patterns because it only takes one spark for disaster to strike- in your home or in the forests.

“Know what the weather is, not only today but tomorrow, because what’s safe today may be windy tomorrow and that fire may get out of that pit and walk," Thomsen said.

He wants everyone to be smart, be safe and use common sense when it comes to using fire this fall.

“Nobody means to start a fire, but over 90% are caused by people and usually they’re accidents," he said.

Other things you can do in your home to protect your house against fires is make sure you have working smoke alarms, check the expiration date on your fire extinguishers and have your chimney inspected and cleaned before use.

Of course, it’s not just your house local foresters want you to protect. It’s the forests too.

“We’re certainly going into it with sufficient rainfall," Thomsen said. "But history has proven that that can change in a week.”

The worst conditions for fires include a dry atmosphere, dry ground, and high winds.

“We can have fires in Virginia any time; it just depends on when the weather is right," Thomsen said. "And that means warmer temperatures, low humidity, higher winds and then when the fuel accepts it. And the fuel accepts it when it’s dry or when it’s basically gone dormant.”

A lot of people go out in the woods this time of year whether to camp, hunt or hike, so it’s important to remain hyper-vigilant.

“If you smoke, crush your cigarette, don’t throw it on the ground," Thomsen said. "If you’re out there riding ATVs, make sure your exhausts are working so that they’re not sparking or putting sparks in the leaves.”

Though most people never mean to start a fire, they do happen and things can get out of hand quickly if the conditions are right.

“It can cause destruction; it can cost lives; and it can cost a lot of money," Thomsen said.

So take the precautions now to clean up your land and fire-safe your home before disaster strikes.

“We would much rather pre-plan and talk about it now than in the middle of the night when the fire is going up the mountain and we’re doing our job and everybody else is trying to grab their belongings and get out," Thomsen said.

Fire season in Virginia officially starts Oct. 15.

For more information and tips on fire-wising your home and land, click here.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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