PETERSBURG, W.Va. — The leftover rain from Hurricane Nate was a major boost in the effort to combat a forest fire in Grant County. The blaze has burned for more than a week and was starting to spread wide along the top of North Fork Mountain until the rain began.
“We got a little over an inch of rain on the entire fire area,” said incident commander Kevin Grodi. “It’s looking a lot better than it did two days ago when we had an actual smoke column, and things were burning with active flames.”
Although the damp weather has slowed the growth of the fire, it’s by no means under control. The flames are spread in some cases underground though the root systems of trees. They are also slowly smoldering through the thick layer of debris on the forest floor commonly called “duff”which represent the fuel load for a forest fire. The fire before the rain had spread to a 180 acre area across the North Fork Mountain Trail west of Petersburg in Grant County.
“It’s really into that duff layer, the decayed fuels on the ground. It’s about one to six inches thick on the ground,” Grodi explained. “You get a bunch of rain on it and it doesn’t have a chance to soak in, then you have another chance for the fire to spread after it dries out.”
The chances of a quick end to the incident are unlikely. Although crews are working to control the fire, Grodi acknowledged the fire wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the remote and rugged mountaintop.
“It’s taking care of that one to six inch layer of duff. It will promote new growth and new grass and movement of wildlife,” he explained. “It also promotes movement of wildlife and things like t\hat. It’s kind of in an area that’s inaccessible, even the locals don’t normally go in there for anything.”
The long-term strategy, according to Grodi, will be to surround the fire as much as possible with a hand made fire break and allow it to burn itself out. The fire, for now poses no threat to any structure or private property. Grodi said until that is the case, their strategy will be to manage the flames back to their fire lines.
“We’re looking at a long term event. It’s nothing that’s going to be put out by the end of the week,” he said. “Because of the terrain and accessibility trying to put a hand line on the fire’s edge is tough. Again, the fire is not hurting anything on the forest, so we continue to monitor it and keep crews on it and eventually we’ll probably just have to burn it out.”