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

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Fire on Massanutten West of Luray_Tommy Miller
The Massanutten Mountain range looking west near the New Market gap shows several wildfires near sunset on Wednesday, March 20. (Photo submitted by Tommy Miller)

LURAY, March 20 — On Wednesday afternoon thousands in Page County were without power and at least three (or more) wildfires still rage as winds reached gusts of up to 50 mph on a day when the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning in the area due to “conditions favorable for extreme fire behavior.” High winds, low humidity and warm temperatures helped fan flames and spread several blazes to the point that firefighters were called in from Central Virginia to help and several subdivisions on the Massanutten mountain were evacuated.

While Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative reported 4,424 power outages in Page County at 4:50 p.m. The last report indicated only 967 after 7 p.m., although some outages in the county are expected to extend into Thursday. Fallen trees and downed power lines blocked several roads across the county, but most were cleared by dusk. At its height today, SVEC had more than 13,000 customers without power — Page County had the most (as reported at 4:50 p.m.):

  • 4,424 — Page County
  • 3,541 — Rockingham County
  • 3,054 — Augusta County
  • 1,931 — Shenandoah County
  • 487 — Frederick County
  • 69 — Warren County

While it has been unofficially reported that some homes have been lost due to Wednesday’s wildfires, no official statements or estimates of overall fire damage has been issued. Firefighters remain in the field at this time still battling several blazes. Reports indicate that firefighters from Henrico County are on their way from Central Virginia to help local volunteers here in the Valley.

Around mid-afternoon, County Administrator Amity Moler issued a Declaration of a Local Emergency due to “hazardous fire weather conditions … a large number of brush and woods fires are occurring [and] several communities in Page County have been asked to evacuate.” Moler issued the declaration in her role as the county’s Director of Emergency Management.

Residents of the Massanutten Forest and Shenandoah Forest subdivision on the east face of the Massanutten along the Shenandoah River were asked to evacuate their homes around 3 or 3:30 p.m.

“Our office has been in continual contact with ECC and other government agencies to bring you accurate and vital information,” Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage posted on social media this afternoon. “We have deployed all resources to assist in evacuating families and answering calls during this emergency.”

Earlier this afternoon, the sheriff’s office listed several road closures and areas of evacuation:

  • Fort Valley Road
  • Serenity Ridge
  • Shenandoah Forest
  • Massanutten Forest
  • Egypt Bend Road

Luray High School is serving as a shelter for displaced families in the aftermath of the wildfires. Pets are allowed at the shelter. After the Central Office went without power for most of the afternoon, Page County Public Schools issued a statement at 6:15 p.m. announcing that all schools would be closed on Thursday.

“As a result of the impact of the various fires, power outages, and the use of Luray High School as a designated evacuation shelter for the Red Cross, all PCPS schools and offices will be closed on Thursday, March 21, 2024,” the notice reads. “Faculty and staff are to remain home unless contacted by their supervisor. Any family, student or staff member in need of immediate support can report to Luray High School, which is open and functioning as a shelter.”

The school system announced a series of cancellations for activities on Wednesday afternoon before eventually closing schools on Thursday.

The three wildfires in Page County still blazing at this hour are located on the east side of the Massanutten mountain range between the Battle Creek area and Fort Valley Road. One fire near Dan’s Steakhouse on the Massanutten may have claimed several homes, according to one unofficial report. Several other fires were reported in the Ida and Stanley areas. One report indicated three tractor trailers on fire along River Road.

One additional fire appears to be in Shenandoah National Park, but that has not been confirmed. The national park issued a ban on all outdoor fires this afternoon around 2:30 p.m. Skyline Drive has been closed from Thorton Gap (mile 31.5) to Matthews Arm (mile 22.1).

As of our last report, Route 211 and Fort Valley Road remain closed. Red Flag Warnings ended at 8 p.m. as winds began to subside a little. The smoke from Page County’s wildfires — and others spread throughout Virginia — could be seen in Northern Virginia and the Metro DC area earlier this afternoon.

On Wednesday, Luray Airport reported winds gusting to 48 mph during the noon hour. The National Weather Service upgraded the area to a High Wind Warning at 1:38 p.m. Winds in the Page Valley continued to blow 20 to 30 mph, with subsequent gusts of more than 50 mph.

Shortly after 1 p.m., smoke was first reported in Fort Valley. At that point, local scanners started lighting up:

  • 1:02 p.m. — Smoke seen in Fort Valley.
  • 1:04 p.m. — Tree in roadway on Virginia Avenue in Luray.
  • 1:20 p.m. — Co. 1 responds to fire on Old Farms Road.
  • 1:29 p.m. — Power lines arcing starts fire on Cattail Lane.
  • 1:40 p.m. — Lines down on Grace Church Lane.
  • 1:40 p.m. — Lines down, grass fire on East Rocky Branch Road. (NPS responds too)
  • 1:52 p.m. — Fire on Massanutten near Dan’s (archery lot … still burning. Got big. Fire jumped over 211 and they shut it down.)
  • 2:15 p.m. — Fire on Valley Crest Drive (contained quickly).
  • 3:12 p.m. — Lines down Fairview Road and Charles Street.
  • 3:28 p.m. — Fort Valley shut down…forest fire on Seclusion Ridge Road

Just in the Town of Stanley area:

  • 12:51 p.m. — 200 block of Forest Drive
  • 1:30 p.m. — Lines arcing 4100 block of Ida Road
  • 3:19 p.m. — Fire on Piney Hill Road in Stanley
  • 4:22 p.m. — Fire on Kermit’s Hill Lane
  • 4:26 p.m. — River Road fire…three tractor trailers on fire, threatening a structure…spread toward Jacob’s Lane

Most of these smaller incidents were dealt with and cleaned up by dark, but several are still smoldering and some even still blazing with continued winds. Additional reports will be provided as additional information is made available.

Follow Page County EMS on Facebook

at https://www.facebook.com/PageCountyFireEMS/



Stanley FD responds to three accidents last week with multiple injuries, one fatality reported

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