A newly established fire line surrounding the Quaker Run Fire is holding, officials announced after the arrival of firefighting reinforcements this week.
The blaze has nevertheless continued to grow in size and is nearing 3,000 acres as it expands into Shenandoah National Park, prompting the National Park Service to close additional trails on Wednesday.
The conflagration that started as a 20-acre brush fire by Quaker Run Road near the village of Syria in Madison County on Oct. 24 encompassed roughly 2,960 acres as of Wednesday. Of that total, 670 acres were within Shenandoah, the park service said in a statement.
It’s a far cry from state and federal officials’ original plan to contain the fire’s spread within a 1,600-acre footprint. Rough terrain, intermittent winds and the severe drought in the Shenandoah Valley have hurt firefighting efforts and allowed the fire to jump established containment lines over and over again for the past two weeks.
There are now more than 100 firefighters on the scene, as well as National Guard troops deployed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning. Two Black Hawk helicopters accompanied the National Guard and are now assisting in water drops.
“Firefighters completed containment lines ahead of the fire’s northwest advance,” the Virginia Department of Forestry announced Tuesday. “The lines have held.”
The Department of Forestry has been managing firefighting operations in the area alongside the National Park Service as part of a “unified command.”
The state agency said that “extra protection” had been installed between the fire and nearby structures this week. To date, no residences or other structures have been damaged. Madison County residents who live near the national park’s eastern boundary, however, have been urged to evacuate. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office has encouraged anyone living north of 681 Finks Hollow Lane to leave the area. The lane borders Strother Run near Syria, where the fire first started.
The National Park Service cut power into the Big Meadows area last weekend and instituted a burn ban for all of Shenandoah on Tuesday. That ban was followed by the closure of additional trails near the eastern boundary in the central section of the park.
New closures include:
Mills Prong Trail.Mill Prong Horse Trail.Stony Mountain Trail.Fork Mountain Trail.Laurel Prong from Cat Knob intersection.Upper Dark Hollow Trail.And the lower Rapidan Fire Road.
That is in addition to the entire length of Graves Mill Trail from the intersection of the Staunton River Trail to the Rapidan Fire Road as well as the entire length of the Wilhite Wagon Trail, which were closed last weekend.
Where trails are open, the park service said heavy smoke is the primary concern.
“Hikers are urged to plan hikes in areas away from the east side of central portion of the park,” the agency said in a Wednesday statement.
The park service said earlier this week that dense smoke has been seen on Whiteoak Canyon and Old Rag Trails; hikers on those trails are urged to take extra precautions or avoid them entirely.
Power remains cut to the Big Meadows area of the park.
High-voltage conductors have been known to ignite wildfires when downed and help spread existing fires when blazes reach them. Generators are operating to keep some services in the Big Meadows area open, including the visitor center and campground, the park service has said.
The National Park Service told visitors to Big Meadows on Wednesday to "please be prepared for limited amenities."
Big Meadows Lodge, a popular rest stop for visitors, closed for the season last weekend, a week ahead of schedule, due to the wildfire.
The Virginia Department of Forestry has said there are no plans to bring in airplanes to help suppress the fire from above. Planes were used during the 2016 Rocky Mount Fire when it was 1,000 acres smaller than Quaker Run.
It will be weeks before the fire is totally under control, according to the state agency.