Fire keeps raging; smoke drifts up valley

The fire that has been raging in Shenandoah National Park for the past week has brought the smell of burning wood as far east as Washington D.C., according to Sally Hurlbert, park public information officer.

Now being called the Rocky Mount fire for the area of the park in which it is burning, the fire has shut down parts of Skyline Drive and several trails.

Northern Shenandoah Valley residents have been able to smell smoke from the blaze, which, at last estimate, was impacting about 8,000 acres of the national park near Elkton.

“With many fires, when the smoke gets up to a certain level, the winds will transport it a long distance, and yesterday [Thursday] the winds happened to be heading northeast,” said Hurlbert.

She said this phenomenon is known as transport wind.

Efforts have been underway since Saturday, when the fire was reported, to extinguish the blaze, but the weather isn’t doing firefighters any favors.

“This fire grew fast and furious in part because of how low the humidity has been and the lack of rain,” said Hurlbert. “It’s been a challenge. There are fires burning all around the state.”

Response from firefighters has been wide-reaching, with personnel traveling from 31 states to fight it. Hurlbert said 301 people have been fighting the fire. They have been making hand lines – man-made containment lines – by clearing swaths of land, removing leaves, debris and any other fuel for the fire.

“They use leaf blowers and special kinds of rakes to dig down to the mineral soil to remove as much fuel for the fire as possible… Right now it’s about 40 percent contained,” said Hurlbert.

She said the containment line building process requires a level of strategy, as the lines must be made ahead of where the fire is currently, in an attempt to corral it. Fire forecasters use computer models and simulations to predict the fire’s path, not unlike a weatherman predicting the path of a hurricane.

Rain falling around the region Friday was great news for those fighting the fire, she noted.

“The rain is a huge help. It’s not going to put out the fire but it’s definitely going to slow it down,” said Hurlbert. “The fuel is getting wet and it’s going to be hard for the fire to burn that wet fuel.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com