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Wildfire breaches containment line, expands in Shenandoah National Park

The Quaker Run Fire breached the containment line meant to hold it on Saturday and has been slowly spreading into Shenandoah National Park.

Trails have been closed and power has been cut to central areas of Shenandoah, according to the National Park Service.

What began as a 20-acre brush fire by Quaker Run Road near the village of Syria in Madison County on Oct. 24 had consumed roughly 1,900 acres of private, public and park land as of Saturday evening.

That’s 300 acres more than the 1,600-acre footprint that local, state and federal officials on the ground had hoped the blaze would be limited to.

“Today, the fire breached a spot in the containment line and is slowly expanding into Shenandoah National Park and The Rapidan Tract of the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area,” the Virginia Department of Forestry said in a statement Saturday evening. “Firefighters are working hard to create new containment lines and stop the spread of the fire.”

No structures had been damaged and no evacuations had been ordered as of Saturday, though reservations at Big Meadows Lodge have been canceled and guests were being asked to turn back.

Controlling the fire’s spread has been made more difficult by the geography of the area, high winds passing through and an ongoing drought, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. Colder weather, however, should help to bring down the flashpoint of fuels in the fire’s path.

“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 with the state agency, told The Daily Progress on Thursday. “The perimeter has gotten larger because of that.”

Dawson at the time said crews were working to keep the fire within the designated 1,600-acre footprint surrounded by the completed containment line.

That same day, the National Park Service said that while the blaze had crossed the park’s perimeter it had 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.

Power has now been cut to the Big Meadows area, 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 reservations at the lodge had been canceled. 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.”

Smoke from the fire has started to spread into neighboring counties but remains worse near the Whiteoak, Old Rag and Big Meadows area, according to the National Park Service.

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 fire departments, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and the Nature Conservancy.

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 has said the cause is still under investigation and has emphasized that “escaped burning debris is the leading cause of wildfires in Virginia.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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