The fire in the Jefferson National Forest is now more than 10,000 acres but firefighters remain hopeful that rain expected Tuesday will help contain the blaze.
However, new wind patterns are now pushing the smoke both east and west, prompting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to issue an air quality alert until 6 p.m. Monday for the counties of Alleghany, Amherst, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell and Rockbridge and the city of Lynchburg.
“Winds should push smoke more towards counties located southwest to northwest of the fire as the day progresses,” DEQ said. “Air quality measurements from U.S. Forest Service air monitors in Bedford and Big Island have been indicating very unhealthy to hazardous pollution concentrations, respectively, this morning. People in those areas with existing heart or lung ailments (including asthma), older adults, children and teenagers, minority populations, and outdoor workers should avoid physical activity outdoors.
“Everyone else in those areas should avoid long or intense activities. For the other areas, active children and older adults should limit or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities until smoke conditions improve. People unusually sensitive to air pollution, especially those with heart or lung disease (including asthma), should avoid strenuous outdoor activities until conditions improve. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and keep quick-relief medicine handy.”
As of Monday morning, the Matts Creek Fire was listed as 10,106 acres in parts of Bedford and Rockbridge counties and was 27% contained. Troy Floyd, who is the operations section chief for the firefighters who have come from across the country, said that no homes were threatened by the fire.
He said that on Sunday firefighters ignited firelines on the western side of the fire. “If we did not extend this line it would hold some heat in the heavy dead fuels in what was on the ground even through the rain event,” Floyd said. By extending the fire line, firefighters “significantly reduced that threat.”
A strong low-pressure system is set to move northeast from the south-central U.S. across the Ohio Valley toward the Northeast. This will sweep abundant Gulf of Mexico moisture northward, leading to what is expected to be a round of widespread soaking rainfall for Virginia, 1-2 inches for many locations and locally more, on Tuesday.
Colder air will sweep in behind the storm for Thanksgiving and the weekend. There may be another system to bring lighter rain — possibly higher-elevation snow — by Friday and Saturday.
The Matts Creek Fire, which was first reported Nov. 12, is the largest wildfire in Virginia this fall. The Virginia Department of Forestry says it has suppressed more fires this fall than any time in the past 20 years. As of Monday morning, the department listed just one other uncontained fire in the state. The Hoover Camp Fire in Buchanan County has consumed 1,402 acres, nearly double the acreage reported Sunday, and is listed as 75% contained.
Cardinal News weather journalist Kevin Myatt contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmyattwx and sign up for his free weekly newsletter. He discussed the drought in his weekly column.