Virginia currently has five active wildfires that have each consumed more than 1,000 acres and are only partly contained.
The biggest is the Quaker Run fire in Madison County, which has consumed 3,500 acres, some of those in the Shenandoah National Park. As of Thursday, it was only 40% contained, according the Virginia Department of Forestry.
The second biggest is the Yocum Creek fire in Lee County on the Virginia-Kentucky line, which covers 1,500 acres and is 75% contained, the department said. The Rocklick Fire in Buchanan County covers 1,200 acres and is 57% contained, the Rachel’s Chapel fire in Dickenson County covers 1,100 acres and is 40% contained while Tuggle’s Gap in Patrick County is listed at 1,050 acres and 35% contained.
Patrick County administrator Beth Simms said that firefighters from Patrick, Henry, Floyd, Surry, Carroll, Montgomery and Franklin counties and the city of Martinsville along with the Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and National Park Service have responded to the Tuggle’s Gap fire.
In response to the fires, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has declared a state of emergency and the Blue Ridge Parkway has temporarily banned backcountry campfires. Those fire restrictions apply to all backcountry campsites and shelters, but not to the year-round picnic areas.
The U.S. Forest Service has also announced restrictions on fires in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. Open fires outside of a developed recreation site are prohibited on national forest lands effective from November 9, 2023, through December 31, 2023. Open fires are banned at any “dispersed recreation site,” including the Appalachian Trail, the Forest Service said in a release. “Fires may be maintained within metal rings, burn pits, or grills within developed recreation sites. Propane and other fuel powered camp stoves are still permitted.”
Virginia will get some help on Friday as fairly widespread rain develops as a low-pressure system moves along a cold front stalling to the south. The rain will be light, mostly under one-half inch, so it won’t be nearly enough to fully relieve ongoing drought. Falling rain and humidity values with the rain will help crews contain existing fires, however.
No further rain is expected beyond Saturday morning through late next week, however, as temperatures cool down to near seasonal levels — 50s/60s highs, 20s/30s lows — before slowly warming again.
Most of the western two-thirds of Virginia is in moderate to severe drought on the newest U.S. Drought Monitor map issued Thursday, with a small area from northern Rockbridge and Bath counties northward through Augusta and Rockingham counties raised to extreme drought.
Cardinal News weather journalist Kevin Myatt contributed to this report. He discussed the drought in his weekly weather column.
Patrick County lodge becomes center for community support for firefighters battling Tuggle’s Gap blaze
By John Hopkins
Nick Bieneck is perched on a director’s chair in the pine-paneled lobby at Tuggle’s Gap, his roadside lodge near the Blue Ridge escarpment where a wildfire earlier this week climbed the steep mountainside just tens of yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Bieneck’s guests this week have been firefighters and other emergency workers focused on the wildfire, which by Thursday afternoon had consumed roughly 1,050 acres and threatened a score of homes and farm buildings. As of early afternoon, none of the buildings had been burned, said Beth Simmons, the Patrick County administrator, and a westerly breeze was telling the firefighters their work wasn’t done.
With two laptop computers and a mobile phone, Bieneck coordinates what is needed to feed the emergency workers and provide them showers and a resting place between their shifts. An outpouring of aid from nearby communities — Floyd, Woolwine, Meadows of Dan and beyond — has been shuttled in to multiply what Bieneck could provide from Tuggle’s Gap.
“I like doing this,” Bieneck said, looking out toward Virginia 8 and the stacks of bottled water and Gatorade in his driveway. Teams of arriving firefighters would heft a dozen or so bottles into their pickup or van before starting down the mountain to catch up with the fire. Bieneck found nearby quarters for his normal guests as the firefighters indicated they’d need to stay to the weekend.
Bieneck feels like he was born to event management. His father organized trade shows and Nick studied the sound systems used in large outdoor venues. He found Southwest Virginia years ago as a contractor for Floyd Fest. He took a liking to the Tuggle’s Gap Roadside Inn, a motel and restaurant since 1938, and when it came up for sale he and his father, Bjorn, bought it in 2021.
So far the fire has been confined to Patrick County. It was about 35% contained by Thursday afternoon, Simms said.
She made a point of expressing “heartfelt gratitude” for Bieneck and the merchants and individuals who contributed meals, snacks, water and hygiene items for the emergency workers — many or most of them volunteers. Anyone wishing to donate may bring nonperishable goods and small items such as nutrition bars to Tuggle’s Gap Roadside Inn, on Virginia 8 just off the parkway. The inn’s Facebook page has been keeping people informed about current needs.
Below are screenshots of some of the requests the inn has posted: