“With drought conditions, warm temps, low humidity and high winds, we dealt with a number of difficult fires this fall,” said John Miller, VDOF’s director of fire and emergency response. “Southwest Virginia was the area with the most wildfire activity; was forced to deal with a tremendous amount of smoke from wildfires in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and experienced a rash of arson fires in several counties.”
Because of the wildfire risk, 29 counties and six towns/cities put burn bans in place. As of 10 o’clock this morning, the counties of Lee, Rockingham and Smyth along with the City of Staunton have rescinded their bans. “Because these burn bans were implemented by county and municipal governments, those same government entities must rescind or cancel their bans,” Miller said. “The Virginia Department of Forestry did not put the burn bans in place and does not have the authority to rescind the bans put in place by local governments.”
VDOF investigators are still searching for suspects in the arson cases, and a reward of up to $2,000 is available for information leading to the conviction of the person or people responsible for the arson fires in Buchanan and Scott counties. Woods arson is the number 2 cause of wildfires in Virginia. It is a felony crime that could result in up to five years in prison, a fine of $2,500 as well as the cost of suppressing the resulting wildfire.
Western Regional Forester Ed Stoots said, “We really need the public’s help to bring the arsonist or arsonists to justice. Someone knows who intentionally set these fires, which put lives and property at risk. We want to hear from those in the know. Please call your local VDOF forestry office or the sheriff’s office in these counties and tell them what you know. If you don’t help us stop this person now, the next fire he or she starts could be on your land.”
To battle the 172 wildfires this fall, VDOF used full-time agency personnel; a number of part-time, on-call wildland firefighters; five crews from the Department of Corrections; paid and volunteer firefighters from numerous localities, and other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service. Miller said, “We greatly appreciate the help provided by our partners, and we also want to thank all of the citizens and businesses who provided us with food, water and other kinds of assistance while we were out battling a number of these wildfires that took several days to suppress.”