Who we really count on in times of trouble

Page Valley News graphic: Local firefighters and first responders run toward house on fire during the outbreak of wildfires on Wednesday, March 20. Text reads "Page County Wildfires" "Lives shattered"

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This article serves as both commentary and an update on the wildfires burning in the Page Valley over the past five days. It appears in our Editorial section.

LURAY, March 24 — Now in Day 5, the battle against wildfires raging across the region is not over, but it appears the worst may be behind us. Friday night’s inch of rain, the forecast for more precipitation by midweek, and the constant arrival of additional resources, has offered some reprieve after watching the Massanutten and Blue Ridge mountain ranges glow on each side of the Page Valley for several nights.

Route 211 West heading over the New Market Gap is scheduled to reopen at 6 p.m. this evening (Sunday). A decision about whether or not to allow evacuees back to their properties was to be announced around 4 p.m. While no official estimates have been made and damage assessments were expected to begin either today or Monday, some early reports are indicating that about half of the “10 to 20 structures” estimated to be consumed by the wildfires were homes. However, during the five days of chaos involving hundreds of staff and volunteers, as well as directly impacting hundreds of residents, there have been no injuries reported of any kind.

“Over the last 24 hours, firefighters have contained the final wildfire in Shenandoah County and are making significant progress on the wildfires in Page and Rockingham counties,” the Virginia Department of Forestry stated on Sunday morning. “An incredible coalition is assembled to put the remaining fires out.”

Protecting personal property remains the main focus of local volunteers, while professional management teams moved in on Saturday to coordinate firefighting efforts for the forest service on the west side of the Page Valley (Gold Team) within the George Washington National Forest, and for Shenandoah National Park within park land on the east side (Red Team).

Despite being reported as 50-percent contained on Saturday at 5,000 acres, here’s Sunday’s update of what was known as the 211 West and Shenandoah Forest fires:

  • 6,206 acres / 20% containedWaterfall Mountain Fire (formerly named the 211 West and Shenandoah Forest fires); being managed by Virginia Department of Forestry; Sunday Report — Firefighters have tied the west side of the fire into a previous burn area. They will monitor and mop up fireline today. Crews will continue to construct containment lines on the south and east sides, cold trail and put in line where possible to secure those edges. They will also scout for green pockets. Helicopter operations could continue along the northeast portion of the fire. The Virginia Department of Forestry is managing the east side of the fire, north and south of U.S. 211.

Also being managed as part of the fire above:

  • 1,148 acres / 8% contained — Edith Gap / Serenity Ridge fire; also being managed by forest service; Sunday Report – Firefighters will put in dozer line along the northeast edge, as well as handline. Containment is expected to be higher tomorrow once crews have checked and secured existing lines.

There was no change on Sunday in the official report on the Rocky Branch fire:

  • 987 acres / 10% contained — Rocky Branch fire; mostly within Shenandoah National Park and being managed by the Southern Area Red Complex Incident Management Team; Sunday report – Yesterday…Firefighters monitored the fire in Kemp Hollow using established dozer lines along the southern edge of the fire perimeter. More firefighters arrived on Sunday. Hot spots in Kemp Hollow to continue to protect private property. Checking along Skyline Drive for hazardous trees.

Yesterday’s rain helped firefighters with efforts to contain and control the Rocky Branch Fire. Fire Behavior Analyst Tony Collins said, “Today is a good opportunity to get the smokers out there.” Meaning, that with clear air and reduced fire activity firefighters can see the fire’s hot spots, heavy fuels, and hazardous trees. 

Despite still being reported as 30 acres and 90 percent contained, local officials told PVN that the River Road fire was contained early Thursday morning at 45 acres. The Coal Mine fire near Star Tannery in Shenandoah County is fully contained at about 200 acres with firefighters still on the scene to monitor. The Capon/Brushy Run fire in western Rockingham County was last reported at 2,559 acres and 45 percent contained.

By all indications, firefighters on all fronts are getting a better handle on the wildfires, as manpower continues to roll in. Both the forest service and the national park have called in professional management teams and experts in battling wildfires. Governor Youngkin is reportedly sending “4,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel” to resupply local fire departments, according to a social media post by Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain. PVN even spoke with a few volunteer firefighters on Saturday who traveled from Amelia County (southwest of Richmond) just “because we wanted to help.”

We just missed Governor Youngkin’s visit to the incident command center set up at Cooter’s in the Valley on Route 211 west of Luray on Saturday. PVN received the governor’s daily schedule listing his 11:45 a.m. remarks and visit to Page County at 12:26 p.m. However, about an hour before he addressed forestry personnel and local officials just west of Luray, the Governor’s office sent a notice about the Regional Emergency Response Effort that Governor Youngkin initiated to “support firefighting efforts in Page County and surrounding communities.” Youngkin visited a site of the wildfires in Shenandoah County after leaving Page.

“On Friday, after further coordinating with State legislators and Page County leadership we initiated a Regional Emergency Response Effort to deploy funding and resources against fires impacting Page County, beginning with fuel trucks that arrived overnight,” Gov. Youngkin stated in the Saturday morning press release. “We are providing support with meals and provisions, bringing in additional volunteer firefighter capacity to give our brave firefighters who have been working through the nights some respite.

“Recovery Support Teams through VDEM will be in place today to meet with local authorities and initiate damage assessments. Additionally, VDEM is also deploying a Logistics Support team to further assist Page County and VDOF on any other resource needs,” the Governor’s statement continued. “This response is directed most acutely in Page County and we are continuing to closely coordinate with local emergency response teams with the fires burning in the surrounding areas of Rockingham, Augusta, Highland and Shenandoah to ensure that resources and capabilities remain available.

“Since Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and State Police (VSP) have been an integral part of coordinating a unified approach to this complex firefighting effort,” the statement reads. “There continue to be heroic efforts by our firefighters and it’s a testament to their courage, commitment and service to their communities and all Virginians.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Despite a deep gratitude for those who have come to our aid, it’s our friends and neighbors who serve us each and every day who had the greatest impact in the initial moments when it meant the most — and they will continue to have the greatest impact as we clean up and nurse our wounds in the aftermath and help those most effected. They will be the ones still here, after everyone else is long gone.

It was members of our volunteer fire departments and the Page County Sheriff’s Office, who (as Timmy Lansberry, a member of both, stated on social media) looked into the fearful eyes of local residents as they were told they only had minutes to grab what they could and get out of the way of a fast-moving wildfire that not only threatened their property, but their lives.

As we continue to watch things unfold in this tragedy, let us not worry about criticizing the process — there will be plenty of time to do that in hindsight. Whether it’s the timing of the Governor’s actions, the number of posts on social media by the sheriff’s office (who was not the lead agency), the flow of information in general, or even the quality of our writing. This has been a confusing, fast-moving incident for all involved, with multiple agencies managing multiple fires, where the information was changing almost instantly.

At this time, let’s instead turn our attention to those families who lost the most. Let’s turn our efforts toward lending a hand in any way we can to those on the front lines. And let’s simply be thankful that it wasn’t much worse.

There are so many efforts being made by the community to step up and donate items, money, time, equipment, etc. that we can’t list them all here. They are very prevalent on social media. We encourage everyone to do their part.

Times of tragedy test the character of a community. The folks of the Page Valley have stepped up and answered the call, and we are certain they will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. So, let’s not worry as much about what others are doing because we all can still count on the same folks we count on each and every day. We know who to lean on in times of trouble, our local heroes, our friends and neighbors, who will be with us every step of the way.



Page Valley’s 211 wildfire now 50% contained after scorching 5,000 acres

Page County calls for Youngkin to declare ‘state of emergency’ due to ‘dire situation’

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

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

Top Post Ad

1 Comment

  1. Since DEI is such a “thing” with academia and the government, now would be a good time to determine if DEI beneficiaries helped any with these fires, or just sat around whining as usual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.