Spring arrives in the Valley with multiple wildfires

Smoke billowed from a wooded hillside in western Rockingham County on Wednesday.

The first full day of spring in Rockingham County arrived with beauty, warmth, wind, and wildfires.

According to Rockingham County Fire and Rescue Chief Jeremy Holloway, multiple wildfires required every available county firefighter to respond. Harrisonburg City Fire Department also sent its brush fire truck and personnel, and Harrisonburg Rescue Squad stood by in case of injuries.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Sterling, Virginia, posted a Red Flag Warning for critical fire weather caused by dry conditions, an underbrush fire load in forest debris, and sustained winds of 25 miles per hour. Some gusts reached 60 miles per hour.

That led to the wind taking down power poles and lines and tree limbs and trees snapping power lines. An estimated 13,000 residents were left without power.

Strong gusting winds rapidly spread wildfires like this one along U.S. 211 in Page County on Wednesday.

Near the two largest wildfires, one near Bergton and the other near Rawley Springs, a few people were evacuated because the strong swirling winds pushed the flames close to their residences.

“Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, we were alerted to a fire near Brushy Run Road and Bergton Road,” Holloway said. “Bergton Volunteer Fire Department responded but could not contain the fire due to downed, live power lines.”

As of Thursday morning, the Bergton fire had burned 1,500 acres, according to Holloway. He said the U.S. Forestry Service and the Virginia Department of Forestry were assisting in fighting the fire. A Forestry Service bulldozer had plowed a break line at the top of the mountain.

“So far, the only property loss was an old cabin in the woods near Bergton,” Holloway related. “We are trying to maintain the fire and hopefully get some rain Friday.”

Holloway said firefighters concentrated their efforts on protecting homes and outbuildings as the wind whipped the fire through the forest. He said six residences would continue to be watched as the elevated fire danger continued.

Rockingham County was just one of several counties burdened with wildfires. Active fires burned all across the Shenandoah Valley.

On Wednesday, as I drove home from Washington, D.C., I noticed smoke streaming toward Shenandoah National Park as I approached Luray. The fires were northwest and southwest of Luray, at the foot of Massanutten Mountain.

I stopped to take photos west of Luray, unaware I would be driving right by one of the burgeoning wildfires. As U.S. 211 began to wind up the mountain, I realized the fire was close to the roadway. The smoke was so thick I could hardly see the fire truck and firefighters.

I headed to Storybook Trail off Crisman Hollow Road to get a better view of the fire. When I reached the overlook, the smoke I had just driven through was below me. The wind was fierce on the mountain ridge.

I could see its effects on the fire as the gusts neared 60 miles per hour, as measured by the NWS. The fire spread out of control despite the efforts of the volunteer firefighters.

As I traveled down the west side of Massanutten, I could see other fires sending smoke high into the air in Shenandoah County. When I entered Rockingham County, I realized our firefighters would be kept busy, too.

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