PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- With drought parching the East Coast from Maine to Georgia, brush fires are breaking out in woods that normally would just be thawing out from winter, and some areas are banning outdoor burning in anticipation of a bone-dry spring.
Firefighters have already battled blazes in New Jersey, Virginia and areas of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania that are normally streaming with melting snow this time of year.
"We've had no spring thaw, because there's nothing to melt," said Roger Maltby, emergency services director for Pike County, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia. County commissioners voted this week to ban outdoor burning starting March 15.
"Generally our brush fire season starts at the end of March and runs through the beginning or middle of May. Normally there is snow on the ground in February," Maltby said.
But this year fires have already scorched area woodlands, including one blaze in late February that spread near several homes.
Paul Head, of the National Park Service in Boston, said fires in Virginia and New Jersey also signal an early fire season.
"It's probably about four weeks earlier than usual," said Head, whose office coordinates firefighting for the region. "Basically, the Northeast has been in about a three-year drought."
A blaze burned for nearly a week and charred about 4,200 acres in Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, before it was finally contained last Saturday. On Thursday, firefighters chased brush fires in southwest Virginia, apparently started by sparks from a passing train. The fires scorched acres of woodland in Bedford County but were stopped short of any homes.
New Jersey has had several brush fires, including a large blaze Thursday in the Meadowlands battled by firefighters from several towns.
The New Jersey Turnpike's eastern spur and Route 508 through Kearny were closed and traffic was detoured for more than an hour as high winds fanned flames and dense smoke toward the highways.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a service provided by the National Weather Service, Department of Agriculture and other agencies, rates drought conditions as severe to extreme from Maine to Georgia.
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