Record warmth spurs rash of fires

Rare western wildfire conditions
Crews fighting large brush fire in southeast Ohio
Crews fighting large brush fire in southeast Ohio(WSAZ/Andrew Colegrove)
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 11:24 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -Thursday’s rash of brush fires sparked under an unusual set of wildfire conditions more typical of the western USA.

The checklist for western fire conditions starts with the dry winter we are half-way through. Since December we are running a 33% deficit in rain and melted snowfall. That dearth of rain is two inches in 2 months and comes on the heels of a dry fall. So, the ground is drier than normal.

Secondly the duff layer left behind from the autumn leaf fall is fluffy and on top of the forest beds rather than muddy and matted into the surface. The lack of winter wet snows means the duff layer has wind currents blowing underneath the leaves as well as on top. That provides a double whammy of drying.

Thirdly and most prominently the Thursday atmospheric conditions were right out of the Arizona desert. It started with the high temperature of 76 in Huntington which broke the record set back in 1937. Oddly that ‘37 date came as the Ohio River flood was ending. In Charleston, 75 did not quite match the 77 degrees posted back in 1925. Since the near record temperatures came chock full of a day long wind-fest (gusts to 40 even 50 miles per hour for 8 hours), all it took was a spark to set off and then spread a fire.

When power lines came down during the high winds, they provided the spark and the winds then fanned the flames for the rapid spread of fire.

While no rain or snow is in the forecast into the weekend, the winds will be much more manageable so our foresters, who do yeomen work during these fire periods, should be able to contain the fires as we await some much-needed rain or snow.

Officially spring fire season doesn’t start until next week in Kentucky (Feb 15) and March 1st in WV and Ohio. But as we have come to know so often here in the 21st century, our changing climate doesn’t want to follow the blueprint of weather patterns from decades gone by.