The Washington Post

Dry air and soil, strong winds trigger fire concerns

Warnings for high fire danger, known as “red flag warnings” cover the entire Washington and Baltimore metro region through 8 p.m. tonight. In addition, a fire weather watch is in place for Tuesday afternoon and evening.

The combination of relative humidity levels below 30%, lack of rain, and high winds (strong enough to topple paddle boats at the Tidal Basin) have prompted the advisories. At 1 p.m., for example, Reagan National Airport’s relative humidity was 28%, with a wind gusting to 43 mph. It has a 4.1” rainfall deficit since the start of the year, and has received just 27% of its normal rain since March 1 (1.17” compared to the average of 4.36”).

The lack of rain means the fuel (stuff on the ground that can burn) moisture is low, at just 3 to 6 percent. Anything that catches on fire has the potential to spread quickly with the dry air and gusty winds. The risk is highest in rural, open areas where there is most fuel to burn.

Percent of precipitation received compared to normal since January 1. (High Plains Regional Climate Center)

Here are a few reports of wildfires in the region (yesterday and today):

* In southwest Virginia, 1,100 acres have burned in the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest in Botetourt, Craig and Allegany counties.

* In southern New Jersey, a wildfire has consumed 600 acres in Burlington County, and threatens 25 homes.

* A wildfire on Sunday in Harford county Maryland consumed 18 acres and forced the evacuations of “dozens” of homes.

What can you do to reduce the fire risk? Here are some fire safety tips, courtesy Prince George’s county:

* 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.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.


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