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South Fork fire doubles in size, crosses county line

Smoke from the South Fork forest fire on Massanutten Mountain is seen as a Norfolk Southern train crosses over the Shenandoah River at Compton off U.S. 340 in Rileyville on Wednesday. The fire is located in Page and Shenandoah counties. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

A helicopter makes a water drop on the South Fork fire on Massanutten Mountain in this view from Rileyville in Page County on Wednesday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

A forest fire first detected in Page County at about 2:30 p.m. Monday has doubled in size overnight and spread to Shenandoah County.

Stephanie Chapman, information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said the wildfire is now burning about 500 acres of the George Washington National Forest between the Habron Gap and Indian Grave Ridge about 14 miles northwest of Luray.

She said recent weather conditions have helped the fire spread.

"On Monday, the relative humidity was fairly low and there were strong winds," she said. "That set up a good groundwork for rapid fire spread."

She said a 2010 wildfire that started on Nov. 15 was most likely driven by similar conditions.

"Leaves are dry and can catch on fire quite easily," she said. "And because of the colder temperatures, there are a lot of warming fires that people light."

Chapman said there were about 100 firefighters combating the blaze by constructing containment lines on Wednesday. Helicopters were also being used to conduct water drops on the fire.

Because of the fire's remote location in the national forest, she said the fire doesn't pose a risk to any homeowners, but warned hunters to stay away

She said Virginia State law prohibits hunting in any areas adjacent to active fires and said closures were in effect for the Massanutten National Recreation Trail, Habron Gap Trail and Indian Grave Ridge Trail.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. There is no estimated containment date yet.

Units assisting the U.S. Forest Service include the Shenandoah County and Page County departments of fire and rescue.

For more information about the fire, visit inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3753.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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