Fire season is here, unfortunately

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, July 28, 2018

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Few people have worked harder over the past couple of weeks than area firefighters.

Soaring temperatures, lack of rainfall and low humidity levels have created near perfect fire conditions. The KBDI index, which measures soil moisture levels, was at a 727 in Wise County Friday. That’s on a scale of 0-800 with 800 being completely dry.

I watched multiple departments battle a 3-acre fire that destroyed a number of structures and vehicles last Saturday afternoon in a rural area of the county – work that took place in 107-degree weather.

Melvin Castleberry, who heads up the American Red Cross’ local Disaster Action team, was on the scene, and he told me he was “canteening” – providing drinks for firefighters.

“A lot of these firemen, they are finding their coolers are depleted by the time they get to the scene. And so I’m just running as a kind of mobile water boy,” he said.

Castleberry said with the number of calls recently, they had been running low on drinks such as water and sports drinks.

He said he often finds people want to help out by donating drinks at the scene of fires, but it’s much safer if those donations could be made at other places, such as the EMS office in Decatur.

Nearby was Wise County EMS’ cooling trailer for use by the firefighters. It also included a shaded area and fans out front as well as a cooler with wet towels.

Red Cross once again responded to the scene of a 150-acre grass fire near Bridgeport Wednesday, providing firefighter support.

In addition to dropping off bottled water or sports drinks at local fire halls or Wise County EMS, we Wise County residents can do other things to help out as well.

First and foremost, we can respect the county’s burn ban. We are now under a total ban, meaning no outdoor burning is allowed. Even if we happen to get lucky enough to see a stray shower soon – and the forecast calls for a fairly good chance of rain by the beginning of next week – it’s still not safe to burn.

Since it is shaping up to be one of the driest, hottest summers in recent memory, that could mean more fires like the ones we’ve seen recently in the county, if not even larger.

The National Fire Protection Association provided the following tips on ways residents can reduce the risk their homes and property will become fuel for a wildfire:

  • Clear off pine needles, dead leaves and anything that can burn from your rooflines, gutters, decks, porches, patios and along fence lines so that falling embers will have nothing to burn.
  • Store away furniture cushions, rattan mats, potted plants and other decorations from decks, porches and patios.
  • Wind-borne embers can get into homes through vents and other openings and burn the home from the inside. Walk around your house to see what openings you can screen or temporarily seal up.
  • Embers landing in mulch that touches your house, deck or fence is a fire hazard. Rake out any landscaping mulch to at least five feet away.
  • Trim back any shrubs or tree branches that come closer than 5 feet to the house and attachments, and any overhanging branches.
  • Walk around your house and remove anything within 30 feet that could burn, such as woodpiles, spare lumber, vehicles and boats.
  • If ordered to evacuate, make sure all windows and doors are closed tightly and seal up any pet doors.

Brian Knox is the special projects manager for the Messenger.

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