Low humidity and high winds across West Virginia and Kentucky fueled multiple fires, including a large brush fire in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve near the Wildrock area that started Wednesday. Yesterday, the blaze reached over 200 acres and multiple crews are working to contain it. Governor Jim Justice made history by requesting the first firefighting aerial mission in the state from the West Virginia National Guard.
“Our Wheeling-based unit has been training for many years to answer this call and will integrate with our partners in the Division of Forestry and Emergency Management Division to save lives and mitigate damage due to this fire,” Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, stated in a press release.
According to Dave Bieri, district supervisor of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the fire is now 65 percent contained, thanks to efforts of the National Guard, West Virginia Division of Forestry, local and out-of-state fire crews, and the National Park Service. Containment efforts included use of a hoist-capable UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter featuring buckets that can hold 550 gallons of water per scoop—roughly 4,400 pounds of water.
Authorities are hopeful that heavy rains from Tropical Storm Nicole will help them extinguish the remaining burn.
“Crews stayed out until 12:30 last night and reported minimal fire activity,” Bieri stated. “Good precipitation last night and continued precipitation today should help minimize fire activity. Evacuation orders have been lifted for all homes in the Wild Rock Area, and homeowners returning to the area will still encounter emergency vehicles, as firefighters will still be out monitoring the fire throughout today. ”
Bieri also confirmed that no injuries or property damage have been reported. The area where the fire is located is not in a heavily populated area of the park, which hosts over a million visitors a year.
Lawrence Fine, director of marketing at Adventures On the Gorge, said the fire did reach the property of the popular local outfitter.
“We have what we refer to as ‘the nine acres,’ that is some of our nicest property which we’ve never built on,” Fine said. “We just have a disc golf course—but eight of the nine acres there had fire on it. No buildings were damaged, thankfully.”
This time of year is considered a higher risk for brush fires, due to dry fall weather combined with freshly fallen leaves. Just last week the West Virginia Forestry released a statement reminding people that burning is prohibited from 7 a.m to 5 p.m. through December 31st. Authorities have not confirmed what started the fire.
Cover Photo by Jay Young from a sanctioned drone flight over Adventures on the Gorge