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High winds, low humidity hurting firefighting efforts at Quaker Run Fire

Firefighters on the scene of the Quaker Run Fire in Madison County and the Shenandoah National Park are facing what officials have called “critical fire conditions” as the blaze approaches 4,000 acres in size.

Wind gusts as high as 20 mph and humidity levels as low as 20% are creating an ideal environment for the wildfire to spread, the Virginia Department of Forestry reported Tuesday.

The Quaker Run Fire had consumed 3,937 acres of private, public and park land with 41% contained as of Tuesday, still the largest active wildfire of the six burning in the commonwealth.

The second largest is the Rocklick Fire in Buchanan County at 2,232 acres, which was reported on Nov. 7 and is already 80% contained.

While most of the roughly a dozen wildfires that were burning in Virginia this past weekend have been contained at this point, a new fire being called the Matts Creek Fire was reported in Bedford County on Sunday and had already consumed 150 acres by Tuesday morning.

At the Quaker Run Fire, there were 211 personnel, eight fire engines, six bulldozers and two helicopters on Tuesday. That has included Virginia National Guard troops since Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency a week ago.

The blaze, which is now in its fourth week, is not expected to be fully contained until at least the end of the month.

High winds and low humidity are not helping firefighters’ efforts, according to Tuesday’s report from a unified command of local, state and federal authorities on the ground. “Fuels are drying and are expected to be able to support fire spread,” they said.

That’s especially true on the southern slopes of mountains and hills where there is more exposure to the sun.

The fire line meant to contain the Quaker Run Fire is holding, and firefighters are conducting mop-ups 120 feet within that line, the Virginia Department of Forestry said on Tuesday.

Mopping up describes “the hard physical labor process of extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines down to the mineral soil, felling fire damaged trees, and cooling ash pits to make a fireline less likely to escape or to reduce residual smoke,” according to the National Park Service website.

There has been no damage to residences or other structures reported to date.

Crews have been patrolling routes near residences in Madison County near the eastern boundary of Shenandoah National Park on a regular basis, officials said. Those living north of Finks Hollow Lane in Madison County are still under a voluntary evacuation order.

Crews are also keeping close tabs on Rapidan Camp, the historic landmark and former White House retreat during the Hoover administration.

Rapidan Camp, also known as Camp Hoover, is now closed to the public.

“The closure includes the area around the historic camp and the trails leading to it,” officials said in Tuesday’s update.

Those trails include:

Mill Prong Trail.

Mill Prong Horse Trail.

Stony Mountain Trail.

Fork Mountain Trail.

Laurel Prong from the Cat Knob intersection.

Upper Dark Hollow Trail (though access to the falls remains open).

And the lower Rapidan Fire Road beyond the portion open to cyclists.

The Graves Mill Trail, from the intersection of the Staunton River Trail to the Rapidan Fire Road, and Wilhite Wagon Trail have been closed for weeks. The Byrd Visitor Center at mile 51 on Skyline Drive in the Big Meadows area remains open and electrified via generator, though power remains cut off to other parts of Big Meadows.

A temporary flight restriction is now in effect over the Quaker Run Fire from the surface up to 6,500 feet in the air, officials said Tuesday. This is to “provide a safe environment for firefighting,” they said in their Tuesday report.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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