Wildfires hit more than 4,000 acres; burned 45 homes, buildings

Wildfires hit more than 4,000 acres; burned 45 homes, buildings

21 February 2011

published by www2.newsvirginian.com

USA — 12:30 p.m.

Wildfires burned more than 4,000 acres of private land across Virginia since Saturday, but nearly all the blazes are either contained or under control, officials said today.

“People are baby-sitting these fires pretty carefully,” said Fred Turck, assistant director for resource protection for the state Department of Forestry.

Since Saturday, a day of heavy fire and stiff winds, 45 homes and structures have been destroyed or damaged by more than 150 fires, according to the latest estimates, Turck said.

More than 700 structures were protected by the actions of firefighters who arrived in time, Turck said.

Thousands of additional acres have burned in the Shenandoah National Park and in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in mountainous western Virginia.

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available.)

10:50 a.m.

Firefighters in Shenandoah National Park this morning continued to battle a blaze in the park’s northern end for a third straight day.

The firefighters planned to burn areas around the fire, which has covered about 2,000 acres. No structures have been threatened.

Because of the fire, the park’s Skyline Drive — its scenic ridgetop road — remained closed today from Front Royal to state Route 211.

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. An earlier update is posted below.)

6:49 a.m.

A heightened fire alert remained in place across Virginia today as weary fire crews recover from a day of blazes Saturday that was the second worst in 50 years, an official said.

“We have been fortunate to have no loss of life and little loss of structure in these fires,” said Martin Kent, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s chief of staff, who was among officials who stopped in Albemarle County to examine damage from a large fire on Ragged Mountain.

Kent, who said that more than 100 fires were fought statewide Saturday, and other state officials also visited fire scenes in Rockingham and Louisa counties on Sunday.

Today’s forecast calls in the Richmond region calls for partly sunny skies, humidity levels of less than 40 percent and an afternoon high temperature near 75 degrees. Winds will be between 13 and 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph, creating conditions that will allow any fire to quickly spread.

The National Weather Service in Wakefield said there is increased fire danger throughout the region until this evening.

There is a 40 percent chance of light rain tonight, followed by a 20 percent chance of rain Tuesday morning, giving way to partly sunny skies and an afternoon high near 45 degrees.

Louisa County officials say the weekend toll from a forest fire that burned about 1,300 acres included the destruction of a a home and damage to two others.

The Saturday blaze was contained by 6 a.m. Sunday in an area between Chopping Road, Old County Road, Zachary Taylor Highway and Spring Road.

Residents evacuated from areas near the fire were allowed to return to their homes Sunday.

The blaze also destroyed two sheds, a barn and a vehicle, officials said in a news release.

At the height of the blaze, Louisa volunteers and career staff fought the fire with assistance from the state Department of Forestry, and units from Spotsylvania, Hanover, Henrico and Prince George counties.

Wind-whipped fires caused problems across the region Saturday, forcing the closures of parts of Interstate 64 in New Kent County and I-95 in Prince William County. Wind and dry conditions also fueled a three-alarm blaze in Richmond’s West End.

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