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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 02/23/2012

Fire Weather Watch posted for Friday afternoon, winds may gust to 40-50 mph


Model simulation valid 4 p.m. Friday afternoon shows sustained winds of 20-25 knots (or 23-29 mph) through the region. Gusts are likely to be higher. (Penn State)
The National Weather Service has issued a Fire Weather Watch for much of the Washington, D.C. metro region Friday afternoon. A combination of low humidity, strong winds, and a dry ground will create conditions favorable for wildfires, mainly in rural, open areas.

Relative humidity levels are forecast to be in the 25-30 percent range while winds from the west may reach 25-30 mph with gusts to 50 mph as a strong cold front blasts through the region.

The NWS indicates fuel moisture, a measure of how wet/dry vegetation on the ground is, is just 5 to 7 percent. Both January and February have been drier than normal in the region, with a precipitation deficit of more than 2”.

The Prince George’s (PG) County Fire Department cautions that similar conditions last year on February 19 led to the busiest brush fire day in the history of the county. Winds gusted to above 50 mph at times leading to widespread brush fires not only in PG country but also in Virginia, where more than 100 wildfires burned. Smoke from the fires caused portions of I-95 to be shutdown in PG county, and caused major backups near Potomac Mills in Va. The strong winds led to more than 18,000 power outages and toppled the National Christmas Tree.

PG County published the following outdoor fire safety tips:

* Dispose of smoking materials in an appropriate container and ensure they are completely extinguished. Do not discard these items into any open area as they may start a fire that will spread rapidly. Do not dispose of smoking materials out of your vehicle when traveling.

* Business owners and property managers should have appropriate disposable containers in areas where smoking occurs outside.

* Do not burn brush or trash ever without appropriate approval.

* We request that you not use outside grills or cooking equipment during these times. If you must, ensure you have some type of extinguishing agent nearby (water hose, bucket of sand, fire extinguisher, etc.)

* If you have fireplace ashes; you must put them into a sealed metal container placed on a concrete surface away from any structures. If possible - wait to clean your fireplace until this weather event is over.

* Use common sense and practice sound fire safety habits.

Here’s a video showing the plume from a large brush fire near Beltsville on February 19 last year:

By Dave Statter, posted to YouTube

By  |  11:56 AM ET, 02/23/2012

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