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Albemarle authorities investigating dozens of brush fires set at Biscuit Run Park

Albemarle County authorities are investigating dozens of brush fires set within the county’s yet-to-be-opened Biscuit Run Park Thursday afternoon.

"The Albemarle County Fire Marshal’s Office believes the cause of the fires to be incendiary in nature," the county fire department said in a statement issued late Thursday night.

Anyone who was in the area of Biscuit Run Park just south of Charlottesville between the hours of 3 and 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon is urged to contact the fire marshal’s office.

Albemarle County Fire Rescue said career and volunteer units were dispatched to the park south of Interstate 64 between routes 20 and 631 around 3:36 p.m. Thursday.

"Upon arrival, crews located between 25 to 30 individual brush fires stretching across several miles," the fire department said.

Three of those fires grew to more than an acre in size while the crews battled the blazes. All of the fires were extinguished by 6:50 p.m.

The Albemarle fire marshal’s office is pursuing an investigation, and anyone with information regarding the fires is asked to contact the office at (434) 296-5833.

Biscuit Run remains closed to the public while construction is underway on the park that has been in development for years. The first phase of the park isn’t expected to open until this October.

"As a reminder to the community, Biscuit Run Park is not open to the public while trail construction is underway," the fire department said. "This restriction that prohibits unauthorized public access or use is intended to help protect sensitive natural resources and help ensure public safety."

Construction on a 550-acre portion of the property began in March and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, that section — including 4.5 miles of trails, public restrooms, a trailhead with 75 parking spaces and an eastern park entrance from state Route 20 — will be open to the public this fall.

The project has had a long and complicated history.

What is now envisioned as the largest park in county history was once the largest residential development in county history.

When private developers bought the land in 2006, they intended for most of it to be converted into a residential development. But the project became unviable when the Great Recession hit and the housing market crashed. Developers were able to recoup some of their money in 2009 by selling the land to the state for $9.8 million in cash and about $12.5 million in tax credits.

Virginia had planned to use the land for a state park, adopting an ambitious three-phase master plan in 2013 that would have cost roughly $42 million. But three years later, the General Assembly chose not to provide funding, leaving plans in limbo.

In 2018, Albemarle County made a deal with the state, leasing the land for 99 years at no cost. It adopted its own three-phase master plan in 2018, with development costs that could reach $34 million. The county tried to get $15 million in funding from the state, but its efforts fell short, leaving it to Albemarle to figure out how to construct the park on its own.

It wasn’t until this spring that construction began.

“I’m going to say this in every interview that we give, but we need the public to understand and be patient with us and realize that they need to avoid that area,” Tim Padalino, the county’s chief of parks planning, told The Daily Progress back in April.


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