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West Virginia firefighters help battle western blazes

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(WVVA) -- It is a historic year for western wildfires. Thousands of firefighters are battling the unprecedented blazes from Washington, to California, and even in Colorado. Help in the fight is coming from near and far, even right here in the Two Virginias.

Every summer, the West Virginia Division of Forestry sends some twenty firefighters out west to help with the wildfire effort.

Two of those firefighters include service foresters Brandon Hibbs of Mercer County and Mark Hudnall of Raleigh County. Both have over a decade of experience fighting wildfires.

"It is a good way for the division of forestry to help out the other states in their time of need."

Brandon Hibbs, Service Forester of Mercer County

"We get a lot of experience out there, anytime you are working on a fire, you are likely to learn something."

Mark Hudnall, Service Forester of Raleigh County

That experience doesn't come easy. Carrying several pounds of equipment on their backs, in what is basically a hiking mission, out west and here in the Mountain State.

"You are dealing with steep often times, rugged terrain. We were in Utah this year and we were working over 10,000 ft. Working with hand tools and chain saws in that environment proves to be pretty challenging."

Brandon Hibbs, Service Forester of Mercer County

Although West Virginia and western States like California and Colorado have steep mountainous terrain, they have totally different fuel types.

In the Mountain State, we receive an influx of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the spring and summer months.

While states out west do not receive the same moisture, the resulting dryness leads to fire differences.

"Typically here (West Virginia) our fires stay on the ground. We will have incidental torching in some areas depending on the conditions. But, we don't often have a running crown fire, where the fire can move through the tree canopy."

Mark Hudnall, Service Forester of Raleigh County

Even though they have been fighting fire far away, both Hibbs and Hudnall want to remind people back home that we also experience hundreds of fires during our fire seasons each year.

While they may be on a smaller scale, they are destructive. Debris burning tends to be the leading cause of our fires, which means they can be prevented in most cases, if people follow the guidelines.

"All burning must be done after five. People still need to be with the fire and it is required to be safety stripped at least ten foot all the way around it."

Brandon Hibbs, Service Forester of Mercer County

"You are going to want to avoid burning right up against the wood line, you kind of want to be out in a more open area of your yard and avoid excessively dry and windy conditions."

Mark Hudnall, Service Forester of Raleigh County

For a look at the full fall fire season guidelines in West Virginia, click here.

For a look at fall fire season guidelines in Virginia, click here.

Brandon Lawson

Weekend Meteorologist

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