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From June 1 through Tuesday, 169 fires had burned through 970 acres. Last summer, 55 fires burned 192 acres.

“It’s tougher to put the fires out, and we have to baby-sit them longer than we would if things weren’t dry right now,” said John Miller, director of resource protection for the Department of Forestry.

The drought index in many parts of the state is above 500, and the scale tops out at 800 for desert conditions.

A significant number of fires were caused by people burning debris, which is typically the leading cause of forest fires, Mr. Miller said.

“Once we get into the extended period of drought, average precautions aren’t good enough anymore and it’s just that much easier for a fire to get away from people when they do debris burning,” he said.

“Vegetation is starting to brown instead of being green, so folks need to be a lot more careful about what they’re doing now.”

Mr. Miller said Virginia typically averages about $15 million in damage to forests by fire each year.


Crime in county increases slightly

County police yesterday reported a slight increase in overall crime but a decreasing number of burglaries.

The midyear statistics compare the first six months of 2007 with a similar time in 2006.

The report shows a 9 percent increase in robberies, from 268 to 292 this year. Police say that follows national trends.

It also shows a marked 57 percent increase in the number of reported rapes, from 35 last year to 55 rapes reported this year.

But the statistics also show a 16 percent decline in the number of burglaries. Police said that may reflect a targeted focus on neighborhoods plagued by burglaries, prevention efforts and the arrest of several serial burglary suspects.

The number of homicides in the county remained the same at five.

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