During West Virginia's 2023 fall fire season, WV saw 323 wildfires, with 34% caused by debris burning, 23% by arson and 12% by equipment use, leading to over 16,300 acres affected; top causes highlight need for 10-foot safety strip around controlled burns

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia , January 8, 2024 (press release) –

A very active 2023 fall fire season came to a close on Dec. 31, the West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF) announced today, with 323 wildfires across the state. 

This fall, the top three causes of wildfires were debris burning, arson, and equipment and vehicle use. 

“Debris-burning fires accounted for 34% of the total fires, consuming over 4,400 acres due to windy conditions, inadequate precautions, and being left unattended,” Jeremy Jones, Director/State Forester said. “The reasons for our precautions and rules become evident in these incidents. West Virginia maintains strict forest fire laws to protect our invaluable forests, which are among the world’s most cherished resources.”

One thing to remember to keep a fire from escaping is to keep brush piles small and manageable. A 10-foot safety strip of non-flammable materials is an essential line of defense when conducting a controlled burn to give a buffer that allows control of the fire. Fires should always be supervised. 

Arson fires are fires that have been intentionally set by an individual or group. This fall, arson fires accounted for 23% of the total fires (73 total) and consumed over 11,300+ acres.

“The problem with incendiary fires is that they are dangerous and destructive. They are set intentionally for many reasons, putting our firefighters in harm’s way,” said Jones. “Our goal is always to make sure our firefighters are safe.” 

Fires caused by equipment use can include machinery that sparks a fire while doing something unrelated. This was responsible for 12% (37 total) of all fires, torching 567 acres. Many of these fires happen in conditions where little rain has happened over a long period of time, the ground and leaf litter are dry and the relative humidity is low. 

Besides these top three causes, other common causes of fires include downed power lines, electric fences, structures that were on fire that spread to the forest, campfires, mining (underground coal fires), fires set by minors and fireworks. The public is always encouraged to be vigilant when burning at all times. 

Fall fire season concluded on Dec. 31, but the Division of Forestry continues to ask the public to be aware of burning as the winter season weather is still unpredictable. 

To ensure the safety of our state forests, we ask the public to be aware of the general guidelines when burning. 

General Burning Guidelines include:

  • All fires must have a ring or safety strip that is 10 feet wide and made of non-flammable materials. 
  • The safety strip must be cleared of burnable material and be at least 10 feet wide, fully encompassing the debris pile.
  • Fire must be attended until completely extinguished.
  • Only vegetative materials such as leaves, brush and yard clippings can be burnt.
  • Fines for forest fires due to negligence range from $100 to $1,000, with an additional civil penalty of $200.

The Division of Forestry protects nearly 12 million acres of forestland across West Virginia. For more information on fire safety and programs like forest legacy, logging and landowner assistance, visit wvforestry.com

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