The Quaker Run Fire now encompasses roughly 3,700 acres in Madison County, including 670 acres within Shenandoah National Park.
That’s more than double the original 1,600-acre containment zone that crews on the scene established last week. A new fire line that was constructed earlier this week is holding, according to state and federal officials.
More than 150 firefighters are expected to be on the scene Friday, doubling the number that has been battling the blaze since the fire was ignited near the village of Syria in Madison County on Oct. 24. They’ll be joining troops from the Virginia National Guard who arrived Tuesday with a pair of Black Hawk helicopters after Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency.
While no residences or other structures have been damaged to date, residents living near Syria, specifically north of Finks Hollow Lane near Shenandoah’s eastern boundary, have been urged to evacuate. Crews have also added “extra protection” around nearby structures.
“The containment lines along Finks Hollow Lane were widened beyond their normal width to make it even harder for the fire to jump over them,” Cory Swift-Turner, a Virginia Department of Forestry spokesman, told The Daily Progress on Thursday. “We’ve also had firefighters in engines patrolling Finks Hollow Lane day and night in case the fire does spot over the containment lines.”
The National Park Service, which is operating a “unified command” at the fire alongside the state Department of Forestry, said Thursday that trails near the flames remain closed and a burn ban is in effect for all of Shenandoah National Park.
Trail closures as of Thursday include:
Graves Mill Trail from the intersection of the Staunton River Trail to the Rapidan Fire Road.Wilhite Wagon Trail.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.
It is important to remember that while the Quaker Run Fire is producing tremendous smoke and covering thousands of acres, it is still classified as a “low-intensity fire,” according to Claire Comer, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
“It’s nothing like the things you see on television from the Western fires. It is a ground fire; it’s not even climbing the trees,” Comer told The Daily Progress on Thursday. “When you’re looking at Double Top Mountain, you can’t even tell it’s burned.”
Double Top Mountain has been cited by several in the area as where the fire first started. Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania released a statement on Oct. 26 suggesting it was caused by a lightning strike. The Department of Forestry, however, has said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and continues to emphasize that escaped burning debris is the leading cause of wildfires in Virginia.
That is one of the reasons why the burn ban is in effect for all of Shenandoah National Park.
A severe drought affecting the Shenandoah Valley and the amount of leaves on the ground this time of year have put the region at heightened risk of fires.
While parts of the national park remain open to visitors, Comer said they should absolutely refrain from campfires.
“We want folks to come. We continue to just say, ‘Avoid that central portion over on the east side when you do,’” she said. “And of course, the burn ban should be a consideration. That means no s’mores.”
While power has been cut to the Big Meadows area of the park for safety — high-voltage conductors have been known to ignite wildfires when downed and help spread existing fires when blazes reach them— generators are operating and keeping the visitor center and campground open, Comer said.
She was adamant, however, “if camping is what folks want to do, they cannot have a fire in the campground.”
In parts of the park that remain open, smoke is the primary concern.
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.
“Folks in sensitive groups need to monitor for that,” Comer said. “You just have to read the forecasts for the smoke and know what you’re getting into and know what your capabilities are.”
Smoke is also dense in parts of Madison County, but that varies hour to hour, Comer said.
“The smoke is intermittent; it’s moving,” she said. “Some days you can barely see in Madison County, but we’re clear over the mountain and over on the east side. Then the wind shifts, and it’s over on the east side. I was just in Madison, and it was clear. But that could change.”
The Quaker Run Fire will not be affecting Veterans Day plans within the park, Comer said.
On Saturday, the National Park Service will host anglers from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing at Byrd Visitor Center at mile 51 on Skyline Drive within the Big Meadows area.
Project Healing Waters began in 2005, serving wounded soldiers returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, D.C. Since then, it has expanded nationwide.
“Many veterans have found camaraderie, connection, and healing in the company of fellow veterans through PHWFF,” an invitation to the event reads. “We are excited to invite veterans and all visitors to learn about the contemplative calm that can be found in fly fishing techniques.”
Anglers will be welcoming visitors and veterans at Byrd Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.