- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Firefighters yesterday continued to battle wildfires throughout Virginia with the assistance of 125 National Guard soldiers, but most of the blazes were contained, a state official said yesterday.

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

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

He said weather conditions will heavily factor into when the blazes can be contained.

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

Forty National Guard soldiers are set to deploy to Bedford County today, and 60 more are expected to arrive in Roanoke.

A state of emergency declared Sunday by Gov. Tim Kaine remains in effect. Mr. Spieldenner said he is not hopeful Virginia will receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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

About 50,000 customers still lacked electricity as of 7 p.m. yesterday, down from 100,000 earlier in the day, he said.

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

In western Virginia, Appalachian Power customers could be without electricity until Thursday or Friday, and some local governments were opening warming shelters as temperatures were expected to drop below freezing, Mr. Spieldenner said.

National Guard air-support crews were summoned to drop buckets of water from a helicopter on a wildfire in Essex County. 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 wind — at times gusting to 75 mph — fueled fires Sunday that have burned nearly 6,000 acres thus far. Power line snaps were blamed in at least 18 fires, forestry officials said.

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

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