Forest fires contained but conditions remain high for fire risk

MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — Forest fires in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands Region last week scorched 5,750 acres according to West Virginia Division of Forestry Director Jeremy Jones.

Jeremy Jones

“A bunch of good work was done on Friday and we gained a bunch of containment before the rains came. That gave us the ability to go back in there on Saturday and today to make sure those lines are mopped up and going to stay in place,” he said in an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” Monday.

The first fires were reported Wednesday as conditions became dry with low humidity. Strong winds picked up to 50 miles and hour and more which fueled the fires faster than fire fighters could keep up. A number of homes and buildings wound up being destroyed. Although he didn’t have a firm figure on the number of structures lost, Jones said he thought it would have been much higher given the conditions at the start of the outbreak. The West Virginia State Fire Marshal continued to evaluate the damages to structures from the forest fires.

Ultimately rainfall Friday night into Saturday helped the crews get full containment, but Jones said the work of a pair of Blackhawk helicopters from the West Virginia National Guard were very extremely valuable and gave fire crews a strong leg up on the out of control blazes.

“It was very impressive and that’s the first time the Division of Forestry has been able to use those Blackhawks. It turned out they were very effective and extremely beneficial.

Jones declared all of the fires in the four county region were under control and fully contained. However, he cautioned people may still see smoke rising from the interior of the fire zone in the next few days as some of the material continued to smolder.

Meanwhile two fires in Hardy County continued to burn with the U.S. Forest Service’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forest crews watching over their containment. The Waites Run Fire in Hardy County has already consumed 4,361 acres and is about 42 percent contained. The other fire, also in Hardy County, being battled by the Forest Service was the Cove Mountain Fire which was also in Hardy County. U.S. Forest Service officials said the fire was about 155 acres and 70 percent contained.

Jones also worried conditions for a forest fire continued to remain high and would grow volatile again with low relative humidity and increased winds and sunshine. Governor Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency in Hardy, Grant, Pendleton, and Hampshire Counties. The declaration remains in place and any outdoor burning is discouraged until the conditions change. Jones said that goes for all of West Virginia and not just the Potomac Highlands.

An investigation into the cause of the fires is underway. Jones said all were “human caused” but that did not necessarily mean foul play was involved.

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