Red Flag Warning

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2007

The conditions are ripe for wildfires.

On Monday, a Red Flag Warning was issued for the entire Roanoke-Chowan area as a combination of high winds, low relative humidity levels and warm temperatures forced North Carolina Division of Forest Resources (DFR) officials to place a ban on all outdoor burning.

According to Hertford County Forest Ranger Michael Hughes, that meteorological combination is expected to persist at least until mid-week. He said he expects another Red Flag Warning to be issued today (Tuesday).

“At first there was a chance of some showers arriving later in the day on Tuesday, but it appears this dry weather pattern will persist over the next 48 hours,” Hughes said.

Hughes said a Red Flag Warning means that critical fire conditions are present where a combination of high winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures creates explosive fire growth potential. Residents in affected areas are urged to refrain from conducting outdoor burning activities.

The conditions took a turn for the worse on Monday where a dry cold front plunged from Canada and made a beeline for the Mid-Atlantic States. Ahead of the front, west winds increased to around 20 mph with gusts approaching 35 mph. Relative humidity values dropped to between 15-to-25 percent across northeastern North Carolina and southside Virginia.

The Red Flag Warning area stretched from northern Virginia southward across most all of eastern and piedmont areas of North Carolina.

Locally, relative humidity levels remained in the teens on Monday and are not expected to inch up today. By noon on Monday, Hughes said the relative humidity at the Hertford County DFR office near Winton was recorded at 12 percent.

“That’s dry, extremely dry,” Hughes noted. “We are on high alert for the possibility of wildfires.”

Adding to the problem is low moisture levels in “fine fuels” (pine needles and grass). Coupled with the stiff winds, a small fire can turn into an inferno in a very few minutes.

Hughes said once the fine fuels moisture content falls below five percent, the potential for wildfires increases dramatically. He said the fine fuels moisture content in Hertford County on Monday was 2-to-3 percent.

The weather forecast for the next few days doesn’t bode well for ending this current run of dry and windy conditions. The temperature will be lower today (expected in the mid-40’s) with north winds between 7-to-11 mph. Wednesday will warm into the upper 50’s while the winds, shifting to the southwest, will increase to around 20 mph. The winds are expected to decrease by the end of the workweek, but it will remain dry and cool with temps between the upper 40’s and low 50’s.

Roanoke-Chowan area citizens having questions about outdoor burning are urged to call the following DFR offices: Bertie County, 794-3725; Gates County, 357-0123; Hertford County, 358-3761; or Northampton County, 534-4741.

Those witnessing a wildfire already in progress or someone starting to burn outdoor debris are asked to dial 9-1-1 immediately.