By Joe Beck
Heavy snows have helped in efforts to contain a fire in the Shenandoah National Forest, park officials said Wednesday.
The approaching snow led park officials to send firefighters home Sunday after they had secured containment lines against the fire, which was first reported at about 3:10 p.m. Friday.
The cause of the fire is uncertain and remains under investigation.
Shenandoah National Park Superintendent Jim Northup said he was optimistic the fire will spread no further than the 450 acres in the southern part of the park near Crimora.
"The goal remains to keep the fire inside the park and, thanks to the firefighters' hard work and the precipitation, we're confident we can do that," Northup stated in a news release.
The fire closed the Riprap, Wildcat Ridge and Rocks Mountain trails, according to a news release issued by park officials Sunday. Skyline Drive remains open.
Employees from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Virginia Department of Forestry and a local fire company worked to contain the blaze over the weekend, park officials said.
Sally Hurlbert, a park public information officer, said in an interview the snow's moisture dampened the fire throughout Monday while firefighters were away. Hurlbert said park officials won't consider the fire extinguished for several weeks when they plan to walk the perimeter and inspect the area for hot spots.
"At this point, it's not spreading," Hurlbert said of the fire. "When the snow melts off there could be hot spots. That's why we need to keep monitoring it, so it doesn't rekindle."
Hurlbert said the fire demonstrated that forests can burn even under the wintry conditions that have prevailed in the last month.
"It doesn't take much to dry out the forest until we start greening up in April," she said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org