PETERSBURG, W.Va. — The effort to extinguish a forest fire in the Monongahela National Forest in Pendleton and Grant Counties is winding down. Forest Service officials say the Smoke Hole Fire is 70 percent contained and crews have started to scale back their operations after a nine day battle.
“Over the weekend with the weather that came in and the moisture we had gave us an opportunity to really strengthen the lines and come up with some strategies to an end game,” said Troy Waskey, District Ranger of the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District. “With the wind we had and the drop in humidity, it was a real test, but so far our lines are holding well.”
It’s the biggest fire on the Monongahela National Forest since the early 1960’s according to Waskey. Since large scale fires are rare, the Forest Service had to act swiftly to put resources and manpower in place to fight the fire. He said the intricate national network of fire suppression within the Forest Service was key to getting everything in place quickly.
Although the fire spread out over 1,620 acres of the National Forest, there was no damage to any private structures. Waskey credited first responders.
“You know it’s really remarkable we didn’t even lose a shed in this incident,” he said. “We owe a lot to our local volunteer fire departments. Their first response was critical.”
As the fire slowly winds down attention turns toward a cause.
“It started near some utility facilities located on private land,” said Waskey. “At this point I can tell you it was some sort of human cause, but I can’t really get into it because we’re still wrapping up the investigation.”
Waskey said the term “human caused” doesn’t necessarily mean it was set deliberately or by an open fire which got out of control.
“I do know there was some recent work being done on some gas facilities near a gas line, but I’m not aware of any burning that was being done on private land,” he said. “It terms of human caused, there was no thunderstorm in the area and no lightening or anything like that. When we rule out any natural, weather related cause the only thing left to work with is a human cause.”