Park officials: Fire should have minimal effect on area tourism

After one of the most devastating blazes in Shenandoah National Park’s history, park officials have deemed the Rocky Mountain fire extinguished and they say its lasting effects should be minimal.

The fire was first discovered April 16 and burned through 10,326 acres of land. Firefighters controlled the flames by April 29 before the fire worked itself out.

Despite the damage done, park officials say the event shouldn’t have much of an effect on park tourism.

“Driving down Skyline Drive, you can hardly tell there ever was a fire,” said Claire Comer, a spokesperson for the park. “You have to look for it to see there was a fire there.”

Comer said that despite the large acreage of the damage, patrons should consider that 10,000 acres represents roughly 5 percent of total park area. She added the fire only affected wilderness areas, leaving the visitor centers, the Big Meadows campground, and the ranger programs in operation.

According to a news release from the park, ecologists suspect the fire will have largely positive effects on plants and animals in the area. The ash from the fire is said to feed the soil to allow new plants to thrive.

Likewise, the fire itself cleared out undergrowth, providing a healthier environment for trees and acorns to regenerate.

“I talked to some firemen yesterday who are working on restoring the area, and they’re already seeing wildlife,” Comer said. “Turtles, deer and bears have already been seen in the area.”

Between April 16 and May 14, 350 firefighters and support personnel from 33 states fought the fire. No major injuries occurred in fighting the fire, which was the second biggest in park history. The blaze’s cause is still under investigation, but officials say they believe it was of human origin.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com