Madison County wildfire spreads to nearly 2,500 acres, including part of Shenandoah Natl Park
Helicopters drop water on the areas with the most active flames, slowing their progress. (Courtesy of Virginia Department of Forestry)
A Madison County wildfire that broke out near the community of Syria Oct. 24 has now spread to almost 2,500 acres as state and local firefighters work to contain it.
While no structures have been damaged by the blaze to date, Madison County officials have issued a voluntary evacuation for residents north of Finks Hollow Lane, which lies near the border of Shenandoah National Park.
The Quaker Run Fire, named for another nearby road, has breached two containment lines since it began. Frequently called fire lines or fire breaks, these perimeters of earth are cleared by firefighters to halt a wildfire’s advance by depriving it of fuel.
An initial 650-acre containment line was not completed before the fire advanced beyond its limits early last week. While firefighters went on to construct a larger 1,250-acre perimeter, the blaze broke through it Thursday and then on Saturday breached a 1,600-acre line.
Greg Bilyeu, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Forestry, said Monday that “due to the rocky terrain, it’s often more difficult to find workable areas to create those lines.”
“Wind is one common factor that can cause wildfires to jump fire lines,” he wrote in an email. “Once this occurs, firefighters have to establish a new fire line, in a new location (hence the growing containment figures.”
The current containment line encompasses 2,800 acres of both private and public lands. About 670 of those acres are within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.
On Monday, the National Park Service issued a hiking advisory for the Whiteoak Canyon and Old Rag trails, stating that they “are open but at times are impacted by dense smoke which may reach UNHEALTHY to VERY UNHEALTHY levels.”
Overall, the wildfire has burned roughly 2,800 acres since it began, although firefighters have extinguished some areas. The Virginia Department of Forestry has not yet confirmed the fire’s cause.
While Virginia wildfires aren’t on the scale of those that have devastated California and Oregon in recent years, state forestry officials estimate there are approximately 700 wildfires in the commonwealth every year that affect just under 9,500 acres on average.
Virginia’s fall fire season, one of two times during the year when wildfire risk is considered to be hightest, runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30. During this period, fallen leaves and dead vegetation provide abundant fuel for flames, and wind and variably warm temperatures encourage the spread of fires that ignite. Drought and near-drought conditions through parts of Virginia this year have also increased risks.
The Virginia Department of Forestry urges Virginians to be extra careful when lighting fires through the end of November, noting that more than 75% of the state’s wildfires are caused by humans.
Among the precautions the agency recommends:
- Avoid burning on dry, windy days
- Keep your burn pile small
- Have a rake or shovel and water hose on hand
- Have a phone ready to call 911 if a fire escapes your control
- Stay with your fire until it’s completely out (drown, stir, ensure it’s cool)
- Consider a “green” alternative to burning yard debris: compost your organic yard waste for your garden or yard
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