By Stephen Smoot
Earlier this month, Governor Jim Justice in a briefing announced the creation of the West Virginia Division of Forestry’s new daily fire report platform. This feature will provide information on fires actively occurring, as well as on fires that have taken place since the start of the year.
According to Linda Carnell, assistant state forester for communication and education, “we are hoping that this will help to educate the public about what the West Virginia Division of Forestry does, and how many fires actually occur in West Virginia.”
For example, according to the platform, 698 fires this year have burned more than 6,100 acres across the state since Jan. 1. Almost 3,400 of those acres burned in the area of Charleston and Huntington and in counties directly south of there.
In Pendleton County alone in 2023, 13 fires burned approximately 1,000 acres, although the destruction from current fires over the past week is yet to be determined and recorded on the site.
The division of forestry uses technology from ESRI, one of the world’s leading company experts in geographic information systems software. According to their website, they have provided geographic science and geospatial analysis for more than a half century.
An interactive map divides the state into five regions. Pendleton County was assigned to Region 2 with the rest of the Potomac Highlands and Eastern Panhandle. Viewers can see breakdowns of fire statistics at the state, regional, or county level. Information on laws, regulations, and permits can also be accessed on a site drop down menu.
Officials also provided a place to report violations. Special operations personnel can then investigate complaints or other reports.
“The information is supplied by the foresters in real time that are or have been on the fires,” Carnell explained. “The public can see the information but will not be able to add anything to the report because it is tied to our fire reports done by our foresters.”
Information about active fires in real time can also help residents stay aware of developing situations and plan ahead for emergencies.
“This platform provides real-time updates so West Virginians can stay informed,” Tony Evans, acting director/state forester said in a news release about the platform. He also stated, “We’re thrilled to now offer this dashboard on our website and urge everyone to stay updated on current fire burning restrictions and regulations to continue to keep our state safe.”
The platform will remain particularly important as the state continues to see a stretch of mostly warm and dry weather. Though the weekend rains provided some respite in the Potomac Highlands, mostly sunny days expected until the end of next week could present problems in some parts of the state.
James Bailey, West Virginia’s secretary of commerce, under whose department the division of forestry works, praised in a release the site’s added ability to “keep our people and our beautiful state forests safe.”
Carnell also described the division’s expectations of the site going forward, saying, “It is our hope that the new daily fire report will make the public understand that there is a lot going on out there and their vigilance allows us to keep West Virginia green.”
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