After working through the night state and local fire fighters at the Buzzard Hill reportedly have the blaze under control. All local fire fighting assets have been replaced by National Park Service personnel although a Virginia-contracted bulldozer remains on site.
National Park Service Ranger, Eric Barron was reached by cellphone at the fire site at approximately 2:30pm EST on Thursday.
“Right now the fire is pretty well beaten down but we’re really hoping for some rain tonight,” Barron said.
The National Weather Service is predicting south winds 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph for the rest of the day and into the evening. The chance of rain is 50 percent today climbing to a near 100 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms this evening. Some thunderstorms may be severe with gusty winds.
According to Barron, helicopter operations ceased as of last night and all local firefighters were relieved by US Park Service personnel earlier this morning. A 12-man team will remain at the fire site to ensure that the blaze is not re-ignited by today’s gusty winds.
Barron said that area residents should remain vigilant, but not be concerned about an unsupervised fire site re-ignited by today’s strong winds. “We’ll have someone here as long as we need to in order to make sure that the fire is completely out,” Barron said.
Barron, National Park Service’s ranger assigned to the Appalachian Trail, said that he estimates nearly 15 acres of forest was destroyed by the blaze. NPS fire crews are currently working in the area removing trees that have become hazardous due to the fire. Barron reported that although there is still a lot of smoke in the air, the Buzzard Hill section of the Appalachian Trail is passable for hikers.
“The trail is definitely passable and there isn’t a lot of fire. We recommend that hikers just use caution and try to move through the fire area as quickly as possible,” he said.
According to Barron’s initial assessment, the Appalachian Trail received some damage from the fire fighting operations, but it was too early to estimate final costs of damage repair or whether fire fighting operation expenses will be shared between the federal government and Clarke County.
As of today, Barron said that he was not able to provide any information on the fire’s origin, although the National Park Service is working closely with Virginia Department of Forestry Forester Gerald Crowell to determine the cause of the blaze. “We plan to play as big a role as we need to in helping to determine the cause,” Barron noted.