An intentional fire set by Shenandoah National Park officials to prompt the regrowth of Pitch and Table Mountain pines went out of control, growing into a forest fire that closed a section of the Park and required several days of firefighting efforts from hundreds of firefighters. Shenandoah officials regularly prescribe controlled burns at the Park for ecological reasons.
According to the Park, the ecological burns are meant to reduce the threat of wildfire “by reducing heavy fuel accumulations caused by insect and disease, storm damage, and the accumulated build-up of vegetation resulting from decades of aggressive fire suppression.” In addition, the Park says the burns promote forest health by “recycling nutrients that are locked up in dead and decaying woody and vegetative materials, [making] them available for new growth,” and “reducing overcrowding, stimulating the production of nutrients and providing the specific conditions, including seed release, soil, light and nutrients, that are critical for the reproduction of many species, including the table mountain pine.”
The Park intended to burn 1,000 acres last week, but stopped the fire when conditions become unfavorable after 150 acres had burned. A week ago, the wind picked up and a stray ember from the halted burn and ignited the wildfire. Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the week, using shovels, picks, bulldozers, and aerial support from helicopters and air tankers.
Firefighters finally gained a handle on the blaze on Thursday, after 3,200 acres had been burned. The southern section of the park, including Skyline drive between U.S. 33 and Afton, and a portion of the Appalachian Trail, have been temporarily closed. No one was harmed during the fire.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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