USA –Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Virginia and activated the Virginia National Guard to be available to help battle wildfires that have broken out in several areas across the state.
The declaration of emergency allows state agencies to deploy workers, equipment and other emergency response resources, and allows the governor to coordinate state and local response to the event.
Virginia Department of Forestry personnel worked throughout the day and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management continued to coordinate requests for assistance from local governments, the governor’s office said in a news release.
Heavy winds on Sunday took down trees, knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses and prompted the mandatory evacuation of hundreds of western Virginia homes threatened by a forest fire.
Smoke from wind-driven brush fires in Roanoke County forced police to close the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 near the Hollins exit, and both lanes of U.S. 460 near Bonsack.
Bedford County issued an evacuation order for the Montvale area after a forest fire had grown to more than 400 to 500 acres by Sunday, said county spokesman Bill Hoy. Since then, 30-plus-mph winds created so much smoke that gauging the size of the fire became impossible.
Officials set up an emergency evacuation center at Montvale Elementary School, Hoy said.
Roanoke County firefighters were battling a brush fire just northwest of I-81 that was sent smoke across the interstate. Another fire resulted in U.S. 460 being closed.
Appalachian Power said more than 75,000 of its customers in western Virginia lost electricity because of downed power lines, including more than 41,000 in the Roanoke area. Authorities responded to numerous reports of downed trees, some of which obstructed traffic, knocked out electrical lines or fallen on homes.
Continuing high winds would complicate restoration efforts, and customers without electricity should prepare for a lengthy outage, the company said.
In southeast Virginia, firefighters battled several brush fires in Chesapeake, Suffolk and other areas, and reminded people not to do any outdoor burning in the gusty winds.
A brush fire that broke out between Tidewater Community College’s campus and Interstate 664 forced transportation officials to close the Monitor-Merrimack Memorial Bridge Tunnel for several hours. Traffic in both directions was allowed to resume for a short time, but was rerouted to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel after smoke again covered the roadway, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Dominion Virginia Power reported more than 25,000 customers without electricity in central Virginia because of the high winds, and about 16,300 were without power in northern Virginia.
Richard Zuercher, a Dominion Virginia Power spokesman, said utility crews were working to restore power but more outages were expected throughout the night.