UPDATE Wed 8:00 a.m… Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said the fire has grown to an estimated 1,200 acres.
UPPER TRACT, W.Va. – A wildfire is burning out of control on North Mountain in Pendleton County in the Monongahela National Forest. More than 80 foresters and local firefighters are battling the blaze that started on Sunday near Upper Tract.
“[The fire] started on private land and it’s moved west/northwest on to national forest land, southwest of Petersburg,” according to Sarah Hankens with the U.S. Forest Service.
The blaze is 20 percent contained. It’s being called the North Mountain Fire and so far has destroyed 720 acres.
Bob Beanblossom with the U.S. Forest Service said crews are having a hard time reaching some parts of the fire because of the terrain in the Potomac Highlands.
“It is steep, rocky terrain. There are a lot of standing, dead trees that firefighters have to be careful of. It does certainly pose some hazards.” Beanblossom said half the battle is reaching those remote areas.
The fire is so large, the U.S. Forest Service has called in crews from out west.
“We have a lot of folks here from the Monongahela National Forest but there are crews from as far west as Oregon, Idaho and Washington,” explained Beanblossom.
Even more foresters are set to arrive from Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Most of the fire is contained within the national forest and that’s where crews want to keep it.
“There is private property adjacent to the forest, not too far from where the fire is located,” said Hankens. “We do have personnel out on the fire line assessing both direct and indirect ways to create fire lines to try and keep the fire on national forest.”
So far, that part of Pendleton County has not seen any of the rain or snow much of the state received Tuesday morning. However, the humidity is high and that’s keeping the flames from spreading faster. Beanblossom said precipitation would drastically help the effort to gain control of the blaze.
Most forest fires in West Virginia tend to be small. Since July, fewer than 1,525 acres have burned total across the state. However, Hankens said the North Mountain Fire is not typical. Because conditions are so dry and there’s a lot of debris on the forest floor, crews are dealing with difficult situations in different parts of the forest.
“It varies throughout the fire. Flame length can be anywhere from 2 inches to 2 feet or above,” stressed Hankens.
No word on when the fire might be contained. Foresters said it all depends on the weather and how quickly they can reach some of more remote areas.