ELKINS, W.Va. — A wildfire continues to rage in Pendleton County in an area near Smoke Hole, which, much to the dismay of state and federal forestry officials, is living up to that infamous name.
The fire – burning on the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest – has ravaged more than 700 acres.
At least 80 personnel and five engines are on the ground handling what has become a Type 3, large-incident fire, said Sarah Hankens, a public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. Forest fires, like storms and earthquakes, are rated based upon severity, with greater numbers indicating elevated threat levels.
“It has continued to grow,” Hankens said of the blaze, which first started Sunday afternoon on land adjacent to the national forest.
This has impacted roads and trails in the region:
– The North Fork Mountain Trail is closed at the intersection with the Redman Run Trail (No. 507) and south until U.S. 33; and
– Forest Road 79 is closed to the public.
“As of Tuesday morning, the fire was approximately 700 acres and 20 percent contained,” reported Peter Fischer, a Monongahela National Forest fire management officer, in a press release issued statewide.
“No structures have been affected by the fire,” the release stated. “Good progress has been made on the south edge of the fire. Crews are working in steep, rocky country with cold weather and wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour.”
Hankens said multiple fire departments, including volunteer units, have partnered to battle the inferno. Resources from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Tennessee are providing personnel and resources. Locally, aid is coming from Franklin, Seneca Rocks, Upper Tract and Petersburg volunteer fire departments with coordination efforts by the U.S. Forest Service and the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
Included among the local heroes working at the scene is Elkins native and current Barbour County resident Adam D’Angelo. He is a budget officer with the Monongahela National Forest, and his wife, Sarah, has kept area residents apprised of his work on the front lines.
Using Facebook, she asked for prayers for Adam and members of the crews on scene.
“Another long day ahead for Adam,” she wrote Tuesday. “The fire has spread to over 725 acres. They brought in four additional crews from the East Coast, and he (Adam) says eight engines are there now. Please say a prayer for Adam (and all of the courageous men and women helping there today).”
The national forest press release indicated Tuesday’s objectives were to: “provide for firefighter and public safety, provide protection to communities within the fire area, and to protect natural and cultural resources to the extent possible.”
Fischer indicated this is the largest wildfire in the Monongahela National Forest since the 1940s or 1950s.
Defined to the east by Cave Mountain and to the west by North Fork Mountain, online research indicates, “Smoke Hole has been part of the Monongahela National Forest’s Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area since 1965. Today, The Nature Conservancy considers Smoke Hole and the surrounding mountains to be ‘one of the most biologically rich places in the East,’ especially with regard to its rare plant communities.”
Once an area known for homesteading, mountain living and moonshining, the Nature Conservancy recognized the greater Smoke Hole-North Mountain Bioreserve as one of America’s “Last Great Places.”