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Fall forest fire season comes with additional burning restrictions

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s fall forest fire season begins Oct. 1 and with it comes additional safety protocols residents are required to follow.  

“A lot of this stuff is common sense, if you think about it,” said Morgantown Fire Department Fire Marshal Ken Tennant.

During this season, outdoor burning is prohibited between 7 a.m.- 5 p.m., someone must be with the fire at all times, open fires must be 50 feet away from any structure, and a 10-foot safety area must be cleared to dirt-level around the fire. Violations of West Virginia burning laws can lead to a fine up to $1,000.

MFD Fire Marshal Andrew Dotson said part of the reasoning behind restricting daytime burning is to ensure enough firefighters are on duty to assist with any potential issues. He said the majority of firefighters around the state are volunteers, especially those residing in rural or woodland areas. 

“That’s part of it is just the staffing levels,” Dotson said. “Not that they’re understaffed obviously, that’s not what I’m saying, but it’s just the availability of manpower is pretty low during the daylight hours due to the volunteers covering the vast majority of the state.”

Tennant said a common violation comes from residents burning un-permitted materials. When burning, residents are only permitted to burn naturally occurring vegetation and materials, such as leaves. Items such as construction materials, garbage or other synthetic materials cannot be burned in the state.

Even while following all guidelines and restrictions for the season, Tennant said it is important to be aware of the weather conditions and take additional measures if necessary. On days that seem especially dry or windy, he said it is likely best to hold off on burning.

“If everything’s brown and the grass is crunchy when you walk on [it], it may not be the best time to burn something,” Tennant said.

Tennant said typically a day or so after it rains is a safe time to burn; however, it falls on the individual to monitor whether it is safe. If a fire escapes, the person burning is responsible for any damages the fire causes to others. 

Special commercial burning permits may be obtained from the local West Virginia Forestry Office in Farmington, by calling 304-825-6983.

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