Afternoon winds will raise fire dangers
The National Weather Service is warning that stiff northwest winds due this afternoon after the passage of a dry cold front will boost the risk of spreading wildfires.
A Special Weather Statement posted early this morning said afternoon winds of 10 to 15 mph will gust to 25 mph until sunset. Coupled with dry fuel and relative humidity readings dropping to 20 or 25 percent, there is an enhanced wildfire threat across most of Maryland.
"Open burning is strongly discouraged today," the forecasters said.
Brush fires have kept federal, state and local fire fighters busy in recent days. A four-acre blaze in a remote and steep area near Point of Rocks last week drew 50 firefighters on crews from Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, according to the Frederick News-Post, as well as Loudon County, Va., the Maryland Forest Service and, eventually, the National Park Service.
The fire slowed trains on the MARC Brunswick line Wednesday evening.
A much bigger fire broke out late Saturday near Big Pool, in Washington County. The blaze covered 40 acres and destroyed two abandoned houses and five outbuildings. Two more homes were threatened, forcing occupants to evacuate, said Monte Mitchell, fire supervisor with the Maryland DNR's Fire Service.
The fire, now under investigation by the State Fire Marshal's Office, drew 12 companies of firefighters from Washington, Frederick and Allegany counties in Maryland, plus crews from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the state Fire Service, Mitchell said. No injuries were reported.
The fire was contained early Sunday with the help of the rain. "We haven't had any incidents since then," he said. But "conditions now are quickly drying that off and we've certainly got the potential again today to have some more fires. We're supposed to have similar conditions tomorrow."
That stretch of the Potomac Valley has been extremely dry this summer. The Drought Coordination Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has declared a regional drought watch, asking businesses and residents in the metro Washington area to conserve water. The region includes Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland.
The council does not anticipate a water emergency, but is asking for voluntary conservation measures: limited outdoor watering; using a broom, rather than a hose, to clear sidewalks and patios; patronizing car washes that recycle their water; washing only full loads; repairing leaks, shortening showers and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth.
The weather service says there is a 30 percent chance we'll see some showers in Baltimore Thursday night. But the rest of the seven-day forecast looks sunny and dry, with highs near 80 degrees through the weekend.
Meanwhile, a more critical Red Flag Warning (red on map) is posted until 6 p.m. on the Upper Eastern Shore and in all of Delaware:.
"A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS
ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW...OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF
STRONG WINDS...LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY...AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL
CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL."
(Reuters PHOTO: Hyungwon Kang, Potomac River, Sept. 10, 2010)