Trails have been closed, power has been cut and hotel reservations are being canceled in parts of Shenandoah National Park as the Quaker Run Fire continues to grow in size.
What started as a 20-acre brush fire by Quaker Run Road near the village of Syria in Madison County on Oct. 24 has now consumed roughly 1,500 acres of public, private and park land.
Virginia Department of Forestry officials told The Daily Progress that they anticipate the fire will burn the entire 1,600-acre footprint within a fire line constructed to contain the blaze. The state agency said Friday that containment line has been expanded in some areas as the fire keeps growing in size.
“When we originally started with this, we were hoping to keep this as small as possible, but the terrain on the side of the mountains, the steep terrain and the amount of rock, made it difficult for our crews to reach it,” Kevin Dawson, a spokesman for the Department of Forestry, said. “The perimeter has gotten larger because of that.”
Just days ago, the National Park Service had announced no plans to close trails within Shenandoah, telling visitors to the area they would likely expect hazy skies but little else. That too has changed.
The fire entered Shenandoah National Park this past week.
Power has now been cut to the Big Meadows area in Shenandoah, the park service said Saturday.
“We are utilizing generators so all facilities remain open, but some services may be limited,” the federal agency said in a statement.
Some of those services include the popular Big Meadows Lodge.
A National Park Service representative told The Daily Progress Saturday afternoon that guests who had booked a stay at the lodge were being told to turn back. Big Meadows Lodge is about a mile away from the same-named grassy expanse at mile 51 on Skyline Drive, a popular attraction for tourists in the area, especially this time of year when the fall foliage is at its peak.
Skyland Resort, about 10 miles north of Big Meadows, remains open, the representative said.
Trails near the fire also have been closed to the public.
“The entire length of the Graves Mill Trail from the intersection of the Staunton River Trail to the Rapidan Fire Road, and the entire length of the Whilhite Wagon Trail will remain closed until further notice as firefighters continue efforts to suppress the Quaker Run Fire,” the National Park Service announced Saturday.
The Virginia Department of Forestry said the Rapidan Tract of the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area has also been closed until further notice “for safety reasons.”
Visitors to the central part of the park can expect hazy skies and smoke, the park service added, particularly near Whiteoak, Old Rag and Big Meadows.
There are dozens on the scene of the Quaker Run Fire, including crews from the state Department of Forestry, the National Park Service, local career and volunteer firefighters, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and the Nature Conservancy.
To date, no residences or other structures have been damaged by the flames, and no evacuations have been ordered.
It is still unclear how the fire started. Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania released a statement on Oct. 26 suggesting it was caused by a lightning strike in the area. The state Department of Forestry said Thursday the cause is still under investigation and has emphasized that “escaped burning debris is the leading cause of wildfires in Virginia.”
Controlling the fire’s spread has been made more difficult by the geography of the area, high winds passing through and an ongoing drought. Colder temperatures, however, have helped lower the flashpoint of the fuels in the fire’s path.