The wildfires are increasing in size, but most are now more contained than before the light rains
Four of the five largest wildfires burning in the western part of Virginia expanded over the weekend, but four of them are also more contained now than they were last week before rain hit the state.
The largest fire remains the Quaker Run Fire in Madison County. On Thursday, the tornado burned 3,500 acres, including some areas in Shenandoah National Park, and was only 40% contained. As of Sunday evening, the Virginia Department of Forestry reported it had grown to 3,877 acres and remained 40% contained.
However, the second-largest fire — the Yoakum Creek Fire in Lee County on the Virginia-Kentucky line — has been greatly diminished. On Thursday, it was listed at 1,500 acres and was 75% contained. Now the active portion has been reduced to 350 acres and is 90% contained, according to the Forest Department.
The Rocklake Fire in Buchanan County has grown from 1,200 acres to 2,232 acres, but 70% of it is now considered contained, an improvement from 57% last week.
The Rachel Church Fire in Dickinson County grew slightly from 1,100 acres Thursday to 1,135 acres. It is now 90% listed, up from 40% last week.
The Tuggle’s Gap Fire in Patrick County grew from 1,050 acres on Thursday to 1,150 acres on Sunday, while containment improved from 35% to 70%.
On Sunday night, the Forest Service listed three more fires out of control across Virginia. The Pinto Fire in Lee County is at 375 acres and is 95% contained; While two separate fires in Russell County were reported at 52 acres and 80% contained, 10 acres and 75% contained.
Friday brought some rain mainly to areas west of the Blue Ridge. Most amounts were light, less than 0.25 inches, but Doppler radar indicated a narrow 0.5 to 1 inch line developed from just west of Wytheville through parts of Bland and Giles counties. The National Cooperative Weather Station Southeast Perrysburg reported 0.70 inches. In the higher elevations of eastern West Virginia and the West Virginia border north of Interstate 64, some precipitation fell as snow, with light accumulations mainly in West Virginia.
Although the rains were light and did little to quell the widespread and intense drought, cool temperatures and high humidity helped slow the spread of the fires and gave crews a better chance of containing the current fires.
Much of Southwest and Southside Virginia is considered moderate drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor map released last week, with areas from Bedford and Lynchburg north in severe drought, and extreme drought from north of Lexington and Buena Vista north through Staunton and Harrisonburg. . The rainfall needed to completely end the drought ranges from 4 inches across much of the Southside to nearly 8 inches along the Interstate 64 corridor.
This week is expected to be dry across Southwest and Southside Virginia through at least Friday, when another cold front and low pressure system may bring rain to the region. It is unclear at this point whether rain late in the week will be intermittent or more widespread. Temperatures this week are expected to remain somewhat seasonally to slightly warmer than normal, with highs mostly in the 60s and lows in the 30s. There may be some potential for additional rain during Thanksgiving week.
In response to the fires, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency and the Blue Ridge Parkway temporarily banned bonfires in remote areas. These fire restrictions apply to all backcountry campsites and shelters, but not to year-round hiking areas. Pittsylvania County has also imposed a ban on open burning that will remain in place “until the county receives a significant amount of precipitation that reduces fire risk,” the county said in a statement.
Cardinal News weather journalist Kevin Myatt contributed to this report. He discussed the implications of Virginia’s current drought in his latest column.