A fire can’t start without a spark, but once a blaze starts burning during wildfire season, the results can be disastrous.

The Virginia Department of Forestry and local agencies ask residents to help prevent forest fires, which are started by humans about 96 percent of the time in the state.

The season, starting Wednesday and continuing through Nov. 30, is one of two wildfire warning periods in Virginia. Although spring is most active, the fall season can be just as treacherous, according to a forestry department statement.

Fallen autumn leaves carpet the forest floor with fuel, particularly after a dry summer.

More than 1 million Virginians live in areas defined as woodland communities or urban interface areas. Many can be found on the edges of counties where homes are built on hillsides abutting mountain forests.

“There’s a whole lot more than anyone realizes. … We’re like Southern California as far as risk when you look at populated areas,” said Bedford County Chief of Fire and Rescue Jack Jones.

Wildfires, which spread through brush or forest by heavy winds, can start with a small pile of pruned branches or piled leaves burned by a property owner. The Department of Forestry recommends alternatives, such as composting and mulching.

“But for those who have to burn, we urge them to take precautions before igniting fires,” said State Forester Bettina Ring in a statement from the forestry department.

Those burning yard waste should check the humidity and wind levels. The dry air of low humidity provides a climate in which fires spread easily, so Forestry Department officials recommend not burning if it hasn’t rained for several days. Wind speeds of greater than 10 miles per hour also create a fire hazard.

“If a fire does escape a person’s control or is left unattended, that person is financially liable for the cost of suppressing the wildfire as well as any damage that occurs as a result,” John Miller, VDOF director of resource protection, said in the statement.

Costs could range from hundred of dollars to millions, the statement said.

Those burning should clear a burn spot and surrounding area down to mineral soil. The burn pile should be small and away from the home. Those burning should keep a shovel or rake, water hose, and cellphone on hand. Authorities should be contacted as soon as a burn gets out of hand.

Jones said those who plan to burn can also call their local emergency communications department to let them know ahead of time.

Those who do not plan to burn yard waste can remove a potential fire hazard by clearing leaves from gutters and underneath porches or decks.

“An ember will blow from a fire and get caught under a deck. It can sit up there and smolder for a long time,” Jones said.

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Contact Alex Rohr at arohr@newsadvance.com. Find him on Twitter: @arohr_reporter. Facebook: The News & Advance Bedford County Beat.

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