Small brush fires flared throughout Maryland and Virginia again yesterday as authorities warned of the fire dangers caused by the winter's extended dry spell.
Most blazes were several acres or less, but a 300-acre fire was reported in Buchanan County in far Southwest Virginia, and Maryland reported a 50-acre timber fire on the Eastern Shore, near the Somerset and Worcester county line. One fire reported off Naoma Court near Fairfax City destroyed 10 acres.
"It's just too dangerous even to think about," Lou Southard, spokesman for the Virginia Division of Forestry, said of the dry conditions. "We would caution people not to burn anything at any time."
According to Scott Prosise, a National Weather Service forecaster, March was the third driest since record keeping began in 1871.
While the rainfall recorded at National Airport has averaged 3.46 inches in March, only .74 inches fell that month this year. So far this year, rainfall is 2.2 inches below average. Clear weather is expected to continue at least through Saturday, with daily temperatures in the seventies.
The unseasonable weather hasn't helped, and officials are worried that winds will increase, fanning flames.
"The main thing right now is the wind," said James Roberts, Maryland forester.
As of yesterday morning, Virginia had reported 916 brush fires scattered around the state this year, for a total of 5,183 acres burned. That is less than the 1,477 fires reported at this time last year, which burned 7,654 acres.
In Maryland, 256 brush fires were reported from March 24 through 31 -- as opposed to the 374 recorded during last year's "extremely heavy" fire season. Most of this year's blazes have been five acres or less, and most have occurred in the heavily populated Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Although authorities think most of the fires have been caused by arsonists, they also cited homeowners trying to burn leaves and other yard debris.
Burning regulations vary among states and localities in the Washington region. Several officials, including Capt. Lowell Jackson of the Montgomery County Division of Fire Prevention, have asked that residents voluntarily refrain from burning "until we get some measurable precipitation."
"All in all, we're just hoping for as many days of rain as we can get," said Virginia's Southard. "Three would be great."