Four of the five biggest wildlfires burning across the western part of Virginia have grown over the weekend, but four of them are also more contained now than they were last week before the state got a smattering of rain.
The biggest fire remains the Quaker Run Fire in Madison County. On Thursday, it had burned 3,500 acres, including some in the Shenandoah National Park, and was only 40% contained. As of Sunday evening, the Virginia Department of Forestry reports that it has grown to 3,877 acres and remains at 40% contained.
However, the second biggest fire — the Yocum Creek fire in Lee County on the Virginia-Kentucky line — is greatly diminished. On Thursday, it was listed at 1,500 acres and 75% contained. Now the active portion has been reduced to 350 acres and it’s put at 90% contained, according to the Department of Forestry.
The Rocklick Fire in Buchanan County has grown from 1,200 acres to 2,232 acres but 70% of it is now considered containment, an improvement over the 57% last week.
The Rachel’s Chapel fire in Dickenson County has grown slightly from 1,100 acres on Thursday to 1,135 acres. It’s now listed as 90% contained, up from 40% last week.
The Tuggle’s Gap fire in Patrick County has grown from 1,050 acres Thursday to 1,150 acres Sunday, while containment has improved from 35% to 70%.
On Sunday night, the Department of Forestry listed just three other uncontained fires across Virginia. The Pinto fire in Lee County is put at 375 acres and 95% contained; while two separate fires in Russell County are reported at 52 acres and 80% contained and 10 acres and 75% contained.
Friday brought some rainfall mainly to areas west of the Blue Ridge. Most amounts were light, under 0.25 inch, but Doppler radar indicated a narrow streak of 0.5 to 1 inch amounts developed from just west of Wytheville across parts of Bland and Giles counties. A National Weather Service co-op weather station just south-southeast of Pearisburg reported 0.70 inch. In the higher elevations of eastern West Virginia and edging into western Virginia north of Interstate 64, some of the precipitation fell as snow, with light accumulations mainly in West Virginia.
Even though rain was light and did little to quell the widespread and intensifying drought, cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped slow fire spread and allowed crews better opportunity to contain existing fires.
Most of Southwest and Southside Virginia is considered to be in moderate drought, according to last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map, with areas from Bedford and Lynchburg northward in severe drought, and extreme drought from just north of Lexington and Buena Vista northward through Staunton and Harrisonburg. Rainfall needed to completely end the drought ranges from 4 inches in much of Southside to nearly 8 inches along the Interstate 64 corridor.
This week is expected to be dry across Southwest and Southside Virginia until at least Friday, when another cold front and low-pressure system may bring rain to the region. It is unclear at this point if the late-week rain will be spotty or more widespread. Temperatures this week are expected to remain fairly seasonable to slightly warmer than normal, mostly 60s highs and 30s lows. There may be some potential for additional rain during the week of Thanksgiving.
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. Pittsylvania County has also imposed a ban on open burning that will remain in effect “until the county receives a significant amount of rainfall that decreases fire risk,” the county said in a statement.
Cardinal News weather journalist Kevin Myatt contributed to this report. He discussed implications of Virginia’s current drought in his most recent column.