Firefighters still attempting to contain several fires, homes lost, residents displaced

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Page County declared a local emergency after multiple wildfires broke out. Pictures shows flames behind a woodland firefighter in Shenandoah National Park.

Community support for first responders overwhelming

LURAY, March 21 — While many of Wednesday’s small fires in the region have either been extinguished or contained, at least three major wildfires spread out over more than 3,000 acres in the central Page Valley appear to remain active as of late Thursday afternoon. The number would stand at four, but two of the blazes have joined into one.

“Page County is monitoring multiple wildland fires in the areas of the Shenandoah Forrest subdivision, Massanutten Forrest subdivision, 211 West on New Market Mountain and E Rocky Branch Rd, Luray,” reads a 2:15 p.m. update issued by Page County Fire-EMS on Thursday. “Resources are on scene from Virginia Department of Forestry and many counties throughout the state. Federal resources from the U.S. Forest Service are managing the portion of the fire on the George Washington National Forest.”

While dozens of wildfires were reported all across Virginia on Wednesday afternoon, among the 19 statewide still being reported as “active” as of 9 a.m. Thursday — nine were in the central Shenandoah Valley (Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Page counties), three others in Madison County and one in Rappahannock County, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF).

Among those, five were in Page County (report as of 9 a.m. Thursday):

  • 211 West — 2,000 acres; 0% contained
  • East Rocky Ridge — 700 acres; 0% contained
  • Serenity Ridge — 600 acres; 0% contained
  • White Oak — 120 acres; 10% contained
  • River Road — 30 acres; 0% contained

Stanley Fire Chief Terry A. Pettit reported this afternoon that the River Road fire actually spread to 45 acres and was contained about 6 a.m. Thursday morning. That fire ignited when three big trucks caught fire on River Road and started a blaze in nearby brush.

Wednesday morning for Stanley firefighters began with an 8 a.m. fire that claimed a home on Helms Road. Firefighters have yet to file a report on the incident due to fighting wildfires since yesterday. However, the home fire actually ended on a positive note, as Chief Pettit said a neighbor was able to rescue an occupant of the home who had taken refuge from the flames out on the roof. (Details to follow soon on PVN.)

The Stanley Fire Department alone answered 11 calls on Wednesday and five more as of early Thursday afternoon — with everything from the nearly tragic house fire, to multiple small wildfires, and even a head-on collision. (Again, report to follow soon on PVN.)

“After lunch the wind started up, and power lines started going down,” Chief Pettit said of Wednesday. “Every call was a line down, and it kept catching the grass on fire…it’s dry and the conditions were right for it to spread…So every time we got a call, it was a fire, and in most cases it was a small fire, but with those winds…a small fire quickly turned into a big fire.”

Small fires like a one-acre blaze reported on Piney Hill Road were extinguished quickly. Many of the fires across the region fell into this category, according to the VDOF report. However, here’s a look at the larger regional wildfires as of 9 a.m. Thursday:

  • 1,200 acres — Rockingham County, Capon (near Bergton); 0% contained
  • 500 acres — Rockingham County, West Briars (west of Harrisonburg); 25% contained
  • 200 acres — Shenandoah County, Coal Mine (near Star Tannery north of Strasburg); 80% contained
  • 80 acres — Rappahannock County, Battle Mountain; 75% contained

All three wildfires in Madison County are reported to be 100-percent contained, including a 29-acre wildfire near Green Gate, a 6-acre fire near Pratts, and a 5-acre fire at Spring Branch near Syria.

Meanwhile in Page County, the VDOF is still coordinating helicopters and airplane tanker operations to assist with airdrops of water onto the fire here. Aircraft refueled at Luray Caverns Airport.

“We do not have an official count of damaged structures, or whether they are primary residences, cabins, or outbuildings — but initial unconfirmed reports between 10 to 20 structures lost,” states the 2:15 p.m. update from Page County Fire and EMS. “A shelter that was operated at Luray High School by the American Red Cross and Page County Department of Social Services will be demobilizing at 5 p.m. [Thursday], but will be on standby in anticipation of any changes. Currently, there are no residents sheltered at LHS.”

Despite the structural damage, no injuries have been reported of either residents or front line first responders. However, due to poor air conditions because of the smoke/fog over the area, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality advises residents to limit outdoor activity.

“The [DEQ] has issued a broad health alert … due to the potential/existence of unhealthy particle concentrations due to smoke. Active children and adults should limit or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities until conditions improve,” reads the DEQ statement issued on Wednesday.

“People unusually sensitive to air pollution, especially those with heart or lung disease (including asthma), should avoid strenuous outdoor activities until conditions improve. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and keep quick-relief medicine handy,” the state-issued warning continues. “If you can see/smell smoke near the ground, consider Code Orange or worse conditions and take the necessary precautions, especially if you have existing heart or lung ailments including asthma.”

See for current conditions from various particle monitors. Many local residents have reported that their vehicles have been coated by ash from the wildfires.

Due to those health hazards, several road closures still in place — including Route 211 West going over the Massanutten mountain to/from New Market — and the potential reopening of a shelter at Luray High School, all Page County Public Schools are closed again on Friday, March 22, as they were on Thursday. In addition, the Page County Board of Supervisors cancelled its Thursday night budget work session. The supervisors will hold their next budget work session at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 25.

About 20 people took advantage of the emergency shelter at LHS, according to Matt Cronin, director of Page County’s Fire and EMS. The Red Cross, Social Services, family members and friends, according to Cronin, have provided other arrangements for those who were displaced by the fires, thus prompting the shut down of the shelter.

“We’re still in the mode of protecting structures,” Cronin said about an hour prior to another scheduled press release on Thursday evening. “We haven’t heard of any lost structures today. After the fire is out, we will go through each neighborhood and assess the damage.”

Shenandoah National Park is helping manage the East Rocky Ridge fire with support from local and state resources. On Wednesday evening, the park reported that the fire was 100-acre fire that was 10 percent contained. By 9 a.m., the foresrty department was reporting 700 acres with 0-percent contained.

Shenandoah National Park has closed Skyline Drive from Thorton Gap (mile 31.5) to Mathews Arm (mile 22.1) due to the Rocky Branch Wildfire. Trail closures include the Appalachian Trail from Elkwallow to Beahms Gap, Rocky Branch, Neighbor Mountain, Jeremys Run, and Byrds Nest 4. A parkwide fire ban remains in effect. The cause of the park fire is unknown.

In terms of power outages, there were still 633 customers of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative in Page County without power as of 11 a.m. on Thursday. The total for SVEC was about 3,700 customers at more than 100 locations. Here’s how the region’s power outages looked as of 11 a.m. Thursday:

  • 1,309 — Augusta County
  • 1,240 — Rockingham County
  • 633 — Page County
  • 418 — Shenandoah County
  • 70 — Warren County

Mutual aid crews from several Virginia electric cooperatives, plus more contracted crews, are in the Valley to assist with restoration, and another seven crews, totaling about 30 lineworkers, are on the way. Crews are working as quickly and safely as possible, navigating smoky conditions and site access issues in some areas because of fires. They are progressing south in SVEC’s service territory as most of the remaining damage is in Augusta and Rockingham counties.

Citizens are advised to report outages on the Outage Center at, the MySVEC app or by calling 1-800-234-7832. Please DO NOT touch downed power lines. To follow along with the latest outage numbers, please visit the online Outage Center or MySVEC app. For more information on how SVEC prioritizes restoration in major events, please visit

“The worst of it was just seeing the sheer number of different fires, which strained local resources,” Cronin said about the last 24 hours. “And the same thing was happening in surrounding localities. So where they would normally be available [to help], they were not there…which made it even more challenging for local responders.”

“We had limited resources for everybody,” Chief Pettit said. “We were on our own. Shenandoah, Augusta, Rockingham had the same issues, so there was no one to call to send us anything. So an alert was sent out for others who weren’t dealing with [wildfires].”

Chief Pettit said three brush trucks from Henrico County arrived in Page County today with crews, and he indicated that other volunteer firefighters from across the state might be on their way.

Both Cronin and Pettit agree that the outpouring of support from the community has helped.

“The most positive thing out of all this has been the outpouring of community support, and the dedication displayed by our staff and volunteers, and the support of law enforcement,” Cronin said on Thursday evening. “Our ECC staff were inundated with radio traffic , as well as 911 calls coming into the Center, and they preformed exceptionally.”

For those working through the night — from firefighters on the heat of the front line, to deputies with the Page County Sheriff’s Office going door-to-door to check homes in threatened neighborhoods until 5 a.m. — donations of food and water came rolling in. Money was offered to help pay for gas (a fire company tanker costs $150 to fill up), as well as offers of equipment and volunteer help.

“What a great community we live in,” Chief Pettit said. “We focus on the bad sometimes, but when a problem like this hits…people really come together.”

Anyone needing non-emergency assistance as a result of these wildfires should call the Page County Emergency Operations Center at 540-843-3357



High winds result in downed lines, power outages and multiple wildfires that force evacuations

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  1. Thank you for your thorough coverage of this devastating event. It’s good to know we have a reliable source of updated and accurate information for the community. Keep up the amazing work. It’s greatly appreciated.

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