Crews Continue to Battle Flames

Wally Smith discusses factors in the recent spur of regional wildfires

Wildfires are currently wreaking havoc in our area, and many people have multiple

questions about the nature of these tragic fires. Over the past month, wildfires have been engulfing our forests in Southwest Virginia, as well as in Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee.

The magnitude of these fires and the damage they may do to residences near the areas have many of the locals very concerned.  Lightning induced wildfires are publicized more often on the West Coast, however, Professor Wally Smith, a biologist here at UVa-Wise, explains that “we do have wildfires in this part of the country that are ignited by lightning strikes, and scientific research has shown that these types of naturally-occurring fires have historically occurred across much of our region for centuries.”

He explains that, “fall is naturally our driest time of year, and so we always have a high fire risk this time of year unless conditions are abnormally wet.” This, along with our current drought, has caused the fires to continue to burn.

Because of how dry it has been in our region, Smith stated, “it is likely that our current wildfires will continue until conditions become wetter or when fire crews contain each ongoing burn.”  He went on to state that most of the time wildfire threats end in late December when we get some wetter weather in the winter.

Smith has a background as a fire ecologist; therefore, he believes that this particular set of wildfires was the act of arson instead of lightening.  Many don’t know that arson is a federal crime and the punishment is several years in prison.

Lastly, Smith stated that climate change is definitely not the reason for the fires because “both the frequency and size of wildfires have actually been decreasing since the 1950s in many Appalachian states.”

These wildfires are the result of arson, which is not uncommon in our area, and with winter slowly approaching, the fires will subside and our beautiful wooded mountains will remain intact.

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