Wildfire season comes early this fall

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The state forester has stated that this is one of the driest falls he's seen in Virginia in the last 20 years. This has led to the Department of Forestry starting wildfire season more than a week early.

Typically, the fall wildfire season starts on Oct. 15 and runs until the end of November.

"A lot of people think the drought causes fires, it doesn't," said Fred Turck, the Wildlife Prevention Program Manager at the Virginia Department of Forestry. "More than 90 percent of the fires in Virginia are caused accidentally or intentionally by people."

As of Monday, more than half of the state is in drought or drought-like conditions.

So far, this has prompted around 30 localities across the Commonwealth to issue burn bans, including Louisa County.

Most of these bans are in the southwestern part of the state and the Richmond area.

"Around here, we're in pretty good shape," said Turck. "We've had a few rains, but it's still dry. People have probably seen leaves falling off the trees earlier than normal."

Turck states that just because it's dry, it doesn't mean there will be fires, but the potential is much higher.

He added that from the start of 2019 to the start of September, the department has responded to 240 fires statewide.

Since then, it has already responded to more than 75 fires.

If your county allows you to burn, DOF wants to remind you not to burn on windy days, keep burn piles small, have water and tools nearby, and always call 911 right away if the fire gets out of control.

At the start of October, the observed fire rating for the Shenandoah National Park is "high" due to the dry conditions.

The park predicts the rating will increase to "very high" as similar weather conditions are expected for the near future.

Approximately 85 percent of wildfires within the park are caused by humans.

Park officials want to remind you that fires are only allowed in park-built structures such as campgrounds, picnic areas, and backcountry shelters and cabins.

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