© 2023 WMRA and WEMC
WMRA : More News, Less Noise WEMC: The Valley's Home for Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Madison County wildfire burns over 1,000 acres

Fire crews
Madison County Department of Emergency Management
Fire crews contend with steep, rocky terrain while working to contain the wildfire.

The wildfire in Madison County has now burned more than a thousand acres. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi spoke with a representative from the Virginia Department of Forestry and filed this report.

The fire started on the evening of October 24th in Madison County and has steadily grown through the mountainous terrain in the area of Quaker Run Road. It's partially within Shenandoah National Park and has burned more than 1,100 acres. The fire is not threatening any homes, structures, or recreation areas, although the air is smoky in some places.

Crews from the Department of Forestry, National Park Service, Madison County Department of Emergency Management, and other local and state agencies have responded.

KEVIN DAWSON: But in this case, the mountain, the terrain, the steep slopes, the rock outcroppings, it's made it very difficult to get to the location of the fire when it was still relatively small.

Kevin Dawson is a public information officer with the Department of Forestry. I caught him on the phone at the incident command post.

DAWSON: Because we didn't want our guys to get injured, and because we could not get equipment to where we needed to get it to, we had to back off of that original plan and go with a much wider perimeter where we could operate safely.

The firefighters have cleared a perimeter around 1,600 acres so that when the fire reaches that line, it hits bare earth and has nothing to burn.

DAWSON: Yesterday, our crews completed the fire line around the perimeter of the fire, and then we had a big day yesterday because the wind was forecast to be extremely gusty, and the relative humidities were lower yesterday. Crews did an excellent job maintaining the line. We did have a couple of little spots that kind of leaked out that they jumped on really quick, and took care of those. … The big thing is, with this fire, because of the time of year, we are having to patrol that line daily, and we're having to use leaf blowers and bulldozers and manpower to clean the line daily because of the new foliage that falls.

The fire is causing smoky conditions in parts of the county.
Madison County Department of Emergency Management
The fire is causing smoky conditions in parts of the county.

Although the fire line is now complete, the fire isn't considered fully "contained" because there are still hundreds of acres of unburnt fuel within that perimeter.

DAWSON: This is the kind of fire, because of the size, and because of the leaf fall that takes place every day, it's probably going to have to be patrolled and watched for an extended period of time, or until we get some significant weather changes that would help eliminate that. I don't have a timeline on when it would be over.

They've also strategically used helicopters in some areas. One is a Black Hawk that's been equipped to fight fire.

DAWSON: That helicopter can carry approximately 900 gallons of water at a time. And so, we used that helicopter to cool hotspots along the fire line, to help our guys work safer by being able to get maybe a little close to some of the fire if the terrain allows. And they made water drops several days in a row. We also have … a smaller ship, and that one totes about 150 gallons of water at a time, and we're actually using that one today to help cool some hotspots as we work to get that fire closer to our fire line.

The cold temperatures rolling in are a double-edged sword – difficult to work in, but helpful in suppressing the blaze.

DAWSON: When we were first on scene, we had some very warm days and some wind. … Fire needs three things in order to burn. It has to have fuel, heat, and oxygen. So the heat from the day is not our friend. The cold temperatures are much more our friend. … Because if you get the fuel colder, it raises the ignition point that you have to have to make it burn.

The Department of Emergency Management told WMRA that any local businesses that are interested in donating meals for these hardworking firefighters should contact Madison County Social Services to set it up.

DAWSON: Most of us are working anywhere from 12 to 16 hour shifts … and they're really giving it all they've got.

Dawson cautioned listeners to get information about the fire directly from trusted sources – namely, the Department of Forestry or Department of Emergency Management, both of which are regularly posting updates on social media.

The swath of bare earth that fire crews cleared through the forest is the perimeter containing the wildfire.
Virginia Department of Forestry
The swath of bare earth that fire crews cleared through the forest is the perimeter containing the wildfire.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.