Dry and windy conditions are once again in the forecast for Tuesday, leading to an increased risk of outdoor fires in the D.C. area.
The D.C. area is technically currently experiencing drought conditions, according to Brendon Rubin-Oster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
So far this year, the region has picked up about 6 inches of rain when normally that number should be around 11 inches at this time of the year.
“This is the fifth-driest start to a year in D.C.’s history,” Rubin-Oster said. “This continues from our dry winter too.”
Early Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service issued a “Red Flag Warning” for the entire region, which is set to be in effect through the afternoon and evening, with wind gusts ranging up to 35 to 45 mph. The alert came almost 10 hours after the weather agency issued a “Fire Weather Watch.”
“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior,”
Dry conditions cause vegetation to become parched, creating the perfect fuel source for fires.
Mostly dry and gusty winds will increase the potential spread of fires today. A Red Flag Warning is in effect for most areas south of I-68/I-70 from noon until 8 PM this evening, with elevated fire dangers still present elsewhere. Visit: https://t.co/5RyZgpeTAT for the latest. pic.twitter.com/o9GiQk7VsL
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) April 18, 2023
When vegetation is dry, it burns more easily and spreads more quickly. Windy conditions can also contribute to the spread of fires by carrying burning debris and embers, which can ignite new fires far from the original source.
“Anything that can spark a fire is a concern because that fire can grow,” Rubin-Oster said.
In addition to natural factors, human activity can increase the risk of fires in dry and windy conditions.
Activities, such as campfires, barbecues and fireworks, can all potentially ignite dry vegetation and start fires. Even something as simple as throwing a cigarette butt out of a car window can start a fire in the right conditions.
“Even people idling and leaving their engine on in the grass, sometimes you can get a dry spark,” Rubin-Oster said. “The concern is it would spark and then grow more quickly given the dry, windy conditions.”
Preventing fires in dry and windy conditions requires a combination of preparedness and caution.
That includes monitoring weather conditions and fire danger ratings, following fire restrictions and being mindful of any activities that could potentially start a fire.
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