Most Va. fires contained, emergency officials say

Associated Press Writer

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared on The Associated Press’s national wire, with reporting contributed by AP’s Raleigh, N.C., bureau.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Firefighters are continuing to battle wildfires throughout Virginia with the assistance of 125 National Guard soldiers, but most of the blazes have been contained, a state official said Monday.

“Weather conditions are much better than what we faced yesterday,” said Bob Spieldenner, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Most fires are pretty well in hand.”

The state’s three largest blazes are still burning in Bedford, Roanoke and Dinwiddie counties, and a fire in Louisa County has been brought under control, said John Campbell, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Forestry.

He said weather conditions would heavily factor into when the blazes would be contained, and declined to speculate on when firefighters would bring them under control.

Since Sunday, firefighters have fought more than 200 blazes _ more than double the number they’ve ever had to battle.

Forty National Guard soldiers are set to deploy to Bedford County Tuesday, and 60 more are expected to arrive in Roanoke the same day.

A state of emergency declared earlier by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine remains in effect. Spieldenner said he was not hopeful Virginia would receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Winds and wildfires forced Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to cancel appearances in Roanoke. Roanoke County officials announced changes for several polling locations ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary elections, also set to take place in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Two injuries were reported in Prince William and Stafford counties, Spieldenner said. Statewide, two firefighters were injured and six homes also were destroyed.

About 50,000 customers still lacked electricity as of 7 p.m. Monday, down from 100,000 earlier in the day, according to power officials.

Dominion Virginia Power expects to restore electricity to nearly all customers by Tuesday, utility spokesman David Botkins said.

In western Virginia, most Appalachian Power customers could be without electricity until Thursday, spokesman Todd Burns said.

“This is some of the worst damage we’ve seen to facilities since the 1994 ice storm,” he said. Crews from across the southeast have been working to restore power to customers. There were more than 80,000 Apco customers without power Sunday night, he said.

National Guard air-support crews were summoned to drop buckets of water from a helicopter on a wildfire in Essex County, which has now been contained. Soldiers were being stationed throughout the state to help more than 740 firefighters already deployed.

The Virginia Department of Forestry was training soldiers in basic firefighting, which would allow them to be deployed statewide.

Heavy winds — at times gusting to 75 mph — fueled fires on Sunday that burned nearly 6,000 acres so far. Snapping power lines were blamed in at least 18 fires, and severe drought conditions and low humidity throughout southwestern Virginia also strengthened the fires, forestry officials said. Firefighters’ resources were heavily strained Sunday night, with at least 13 counties requesting additional help, Campbell said.

The number of charred acres was more than half of all those that burned in Virginia last year.

Allstate Insurance Company reported that it was processing hundreds of claims, mostly in Virginia, and company officials said in a statement that they expected that number to rise.