CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Spring Forest Fire Season in West Virginia is coming to a close and for the West Virginia Division of Forestry it couldn’t come soon enough. In addition to an unusually high number of forest fires during the spring months, the agency suffered its first fatality in the line of duty.
Cody J. Mullens, 28, of Mt. Hope in Fayette County, was fatally injured by a falling tree while battling a blaze on Armstrong Creek near Montgomery in April.
“It really affected our agency. Cody was really close to everybody, one of our best employees and really just a young kid. We’re really trying to review the way we operate after that fatality and hopefully some improvements come out of a really terrible situation,” said Jeremy Jones with the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
Jones said on top of the loss of one of their own, they dealt with 787 separate blazes which blackened 11,000 acres of the West Virginia landscape during the period.
“Both of those numbers are higher than what we usually have in a year’s time,” he said.
Jones said the problem was the weather pattern. Through much of the spring the sate got much needed rainfall, but the back end of the front which produced the rain would be packed with warm temperatures and strong winds which quickly dried out the forest and the chances for fire increased again.
“The main factor was all those windy days,” he added.
The higher elevations saw the chances for a forest fire in those locations extended beyond the typical threshold due to an early May snowstorm. The snow put more than a foot on the ground in the higher elevations and slowed the greening of the highest mountain tops for another week or more.
“We greened up fast everywhere else, but up around the Snowshoe area and the mountains that got that late snow it delayed it for a week or two for sure,” he said.
The burning restrictions are now lifted until the first of October when the Fall Forest Fire Season begins.