High Winds Fuel Wildfires in Virginia and Other Mid-Atlantic States

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Firefighters continued to battle wildfires across parts of the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, a day after high winds and low humidity sparked dozens of fires in four states, prompting officials to issue air-quality alerts.

Wildfires were reported in parts of Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Forestry said in a statement on Thursday that firefighters had responded to more than 100 wildfires in the previous 48 hours, and that more than 7,500 acres had burned. Firefighters were working with emergency responders in Albemarle, Louisa, Page, Rockingham, Tazewell and Dickenson Counties “to contain several large wildfires,” it said.

Wildfire risk remains high because of continued low humidity and winds, the department said.

One of the biggest fires in the state was burning in Rockingham County, Va., about 140 miles northwest of Richmond, the state capital. The Rockingham County fire chief, Jeremy Holloway, said about 2,000 acres had burned, according to WHSV-TV of Harrisonburg, Va. As a result, some residents in neighboring communities were asked to evacuate.

In response to the fires, local states of emergency were declared in Augusta, Page and Shenandoah Counties in Virginia. Public schools were also closed in Page County on Thursday.

Wildfire season in the northeastern United States typically peaks in April and can continue into May, according to the National Weather Service. The pre-green period across the region, in combination with increasing solar radiation and high pressure systems, can help fuel these fires.

The Virginia Department of Environment Quality issued an air quality health alert on Wednesday, saying that people with heart or lung conditions, including children and older adults, should restrict their outdoor activities.

Crews fought 39 brush fires on Wednesday in Prince William County, in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, according to local reports. The flames in that area temporarily closed a portion of U.S. 1, a major highway that runs from Florida to Maine.

Officials in West Virginia were working to contain wildfires across the state, including in Grant, Hardy, and Pendleton Counties, WHSV reported. Officials with the Bruceton Brandonville Volunteer Fire Department in Hardy County said on Thursday that 14 structures were on fire and “many more are already a complete loss.”

In the southern portion of West Virginia, at least five brush fires were reported on Wednesday, with some burning hundreds of acres.

Fire crews around the Mid-Atlantic region will again on Thursday to be at the ready as weather forecasts call for conditions conducive to more fires.

The Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va., said that despite diminishing winds Thursday, the combination of low relative humidity, northwesterly winds and dry fuels would again make for ideal fire weather across southwestern Virginia and southeastern West Virginia through the evening. Similar statements were also issued for parts of Maryland and North Carolina.

“Residents are urged to exercise caution handling any potential ignition source,” including machinery, cigarettes and matches, weather officials said.

While the weather will be dry on Thursday, a system is expected to bring soaking rains, with the possibility of flash flooding, to much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastline this weekend.

Poor air quality was also affecting parts of Alabama because of fires, some of which were prescribed burns. In Alabama, the health department in Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, issued an air quality alert for Thursday and urged some groups, including children, older adults and people with respiratory issues, to limit prolonged outdoor activities.

The department said the air quality worsened overnight because smoke from prescribed burns got trapped in an inversion, when a layer of cool air is below a layer of warmer air.

Judson Jones contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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