Park wildfire takes its toll

Fire spreads over the mountain Saturday near sunset, as seen from Huntly. Photo by Nol Putnam.

Crews battling wildfires within Shenandoah National Park since the weekend picked up a welcome assist from the weather as several inches of rain, snow and sleet fell Monday night into Tuesday morning.

“Nothing has come off the park. It’s been contained,” said Richie Burke, emergency services manager for Rappahannock County, of the fire stoked by Saturday’s gusty winds and dry conditions.

He said the fire never got closer than 200 yards from private property on the Rappahannock side of the Blue Ridge. The fire did burn an area of the county within the park, but no structures were affected.

Burke said Monday night and Tuesday morning’s precipitation helped efforts to quell the fire. Park firefighters, he said, returned the radios Burke had lent them to allow better communication with county crews.

“They’ve already burnt back to Skyline Drive,” he said, referring to Monday’s controlled burn to keep the flames from advancing.

The fire started Saturday morning on private land near Browntown in Warren County and spread into Jenkins Gap area of the park. By Sunday afternoon, when the previous day’s gusting winds had died down, the fire had burned about 2,000 acres in the park.

An update released by the park Monday morning said that “no significant additional acreage has burned.”

“The fire went up a slope and into the park. They tried to hold it and it jumped a fire break into the park” from Browntown, Burke said.
He said that firefighting units from Flint Hill were standing by in the event the fire advanced out of the park.

The fire “came close to private residences. The park sent units in. Flint Hill was standing by. Luckily they were able to contain it. They did a controlled burn,” Burke said on Monday morning.

The proximity to the fire, and a curtain of billowing smoke that could be seen more than 20 miles away, prompted “a lot of people to call the sheriff’s office” in Rappahannock on Saturday, Burke said.

He said he and the chief of the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue squad checked on the fire Saturday night and they could see that the fire was 400 to 500 yards into the park and hadn’t crossed the county border. By 7 a.m. Sunday, he said, the progress of the fire had slowed.

There were no planned evacuations during the “code red” emergency, he said.

A park news release said that no structures within the park were threatened by what it was calling the Smith Run fire.

The fire as seen from Over the Hill Farm in Flint Hill at sunset Saturday. Photo by Geoff Gowen.

In addition to crews from Warren County, Rappahannock County and the Virginia Department of Forestry, the park brought in its own firefighting team, called an “interagency incident management team,” comprised of crews from the National Park Service, Monongahela National Forest and the Asheville Interagency Hotshots.

Because of the fire, the park closed Skyline Drive between Front Royal and U.S. 211 at Thornton Gap. Hiking trails were also closed, including Mt. Marshall Trail from Skyline Drive to the intersection at Bluff Trail, the Appalachian Trail between Compton Gap and the Browntown Trail; the Lands Run Gap Fire Road; and the Jenkins Gap Trail.

A park spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment on the status of those closures as the newspaper went to press.

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James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at