Louisa County officials imposed a burn ban on Oct. 4, citing the potential for the recent lack of rain and falling leaves to create ideal conditions for wildfires.
“This is one of the driest falls we’ve seen in Virginia during the past 20 years,” State Forester Rob Farrell said. “The potential for an increased number of fires and more complex fires is significant.”
The prohibition applies to the burning of brush, leaves, grass, trash, debris or any other flammable material, as well as the ignition or maintenance of any open fire within the county. It does not apply to charcoal, gas or liquid-fired grills.
“We take citizen safety and the protection of property very seriously,” said Keith Greene, Fire and Emergency Services chief. “Responsible practices are critical to ensuring both.”
The metric used by state officials to determine the risk of a wildfire is the the Keech-Byram Drought Index, which is based on the water deficit on the ground surface. The scale runs from 0 to 800, with 800 being the most dry.
The central Virginia area typically enters the fall fire season (October 15 to November 30) in the 250 range. Currently, Louisa County and the surrounding areas in the piedmont are above 500 on the index, which represents an extreme risk for fires.
In spite of having normal, if not higher than normal rainfall earlier in the year, precipitation in the region began to slow in August. There were fewer than 10 days of precipitation that month, generating less than three inches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In September, that number dropped to four days, amounting to a total of less than half an inch of rainfall for the entire month.
Pam Baughman, Louisa County Water Authority general manager, said that even with average or above average rainfall for the entire year, once the precipitation stops it doesn’t take long for the surface to dry up.
“The state of Virginia is currently in a rainfall emergency,” she said. “We’re seeing some creeks and streams drying up, and Lake Anna is currently down a foot and a half, which isn’t abnormal for this kind of year... but this much surface dryness is not normal.”
The forecast for central Virginia doesn’t show a reprieve coming any time soon, either, with only the 25 percent chance of some light rain coming this weekend. County officials said the burn ban will remain in effect until further notice; anyone who comes in contact with an out-of-control fire is urged to get to safety and call 9-1-1.