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Central Virginia wildfires contained, as Shenandoah fires rage on

Firefighting efforts in Central Virginia had successfully contained and extinguished multiple wildfires by the end of the week that had been ignited during the high winds this past Wednesday.

Of the dozens of wildfires in Central Virginia, three active ones remained as of Saturday, according to the Wildland Fire Interagency Geospatial Service. All three, two in Albemarle County and one in Louisa County, were 100% contained. Contained means a fire is completely restricted to a certain area by established fire lines; it does not mean a fire is extinguished.

Albemarle County officials reported its largest fire, the Taylors Gap Fire, was 100% contained by 1:30 p.m. Friday after burning through roughly 250 acres and destroying two structures, described as outbuildings.

Those officials said the Virginia Department of Forestry, based in nearby Charlottesville, would continue to monitor the fire.

“Areas inside the fire lines can continue to smolder & produce smoke for days,” the county said in a statement, “but we anticipate the rain Friday night to cool the area and reduce the amount of smoke.”

The rain Friday night did come as a relief, to firefighters, property owners and the hundreds participating in the Charlottesville Ten Miler Saturday.

By Saturday morning, the air quality in the Charlottesville area had improved from “fair” to “good,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index.

The two smaller fires in the Charlottesville area, the Piney Mountain Fire in northern Albemarle off U.S. 29 and the West Old Mountain Fire near Yanceyville in Louisa County, were both 100% contained as of Saturday.

The 180-acre Piney Mountain Fire destroyed a single shed while the 450-acre West Old Mountain Fire ripped through a warehouse, woodshop and conference center before they were fully contained.

The causes of all three active fires in the area remain under investigation. Multiple witnesses and first responders at the scenes of fires this past week blamed power lines downed during the high winds Wednesday. At least one of the fires, the Blackberry Hill Fire in northwest Albemarle, was caused by an open-air burn in violation of Virginia law. The property owner responsible for the burn has been charged, police said.

While the fires in Central Virginia have largely been contained or totally extinguished, the blazes in the Shenandoah Valley next door continue to burn through thousands of acres of land.

More than 100 wildfires were ignited in the valley during Wednesday’s high winds.

The Rocky Branch Fire in particular has grown in size exponentially, from 450 acres on Thursday to 1,200 acres by Friday. That fire, started outside the town of Luray in Page County on Wednesday, quickly moved into the neighboring Shenandoah National Park. Rain over Friday night had managed to shrink the footprint of the fire down to 987 acres by Saturday, but the fire remained only 10% contained.

Evacuations and local states of emergency have been declared. At least five houses have been destroyed by the fire. Luray High School has been converted into a shelter for the Red Cross. And Page County Public Schools has canceled classes.

Conditions have not been improved by the proximity of the Waterfall Mountain Fire to the west, which had burned through another 5,000 acres and was 0% contained as of Saturday.

The National Park Service has closed multiple trails near the blazes, including:

■ The Appalachian Trail from Elkwallow to Beahms Gap.

■ Rocky Branch.

■ Neighbor Mountain.

■ Jeremys Run.

■ Hull School Trail from Skyline Drive to Thornton River Upper Trail.

■ Thornton River Upper Trail from intersection of Hull School Trail to Skyline Drive.

The park service has also closed Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap to Mathews Arm Campground. Byrd’s Nest No. 4, a shelter along the Appalachian Trail, has also been closed.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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