By Clay Dubberly
This post has been updated.
Shenandoah National Park is burning, and it seems Shenandoah University students, who live approximately 33 minutes away from the park and an hour and a half from the location of the fire, are widely oblivious.
The Washington Post reports that over 5,600 acres have been burned since the onset of the fire on Saturday, April 16. Over 2,000 acres were burned since Tuesday night.
While the actual fire is around 80 miles away, some SU students consider it odd that many aren’t aware about the blaze.
John Oross, a freshman psychology major at SU says, “It’s really weird that we wouldn’t know about this. If there are students around that area it’ll affect them, but I don’t think it’ll affect the rest of campus,”
The National Park Service says they can’t pinpoint what started the fire but think it was likely caused by humans.
The peculiarly-named “Rocky Mount Fire” has closed Skyline Drive from Swift Run, mile 65, to Loft Mountain, mile 75. 13 other Shenandoah trails have been closed, as well as four miles of the Appalachian trail.
SU students shouldn’t have much to worry about, because, according to park ranger Sally Hurlbert: “We won’t let it get out of the park.”
“It is very steep terrain, wooded with a lot of mountain laurel so that is part of the reason why the fire is burning pretty hotly, because leaf litter and mountain laurel are, cause fire to move through an area pretty quickly,” Hurlbert said.
The next rainfall is expected late Thursday night. John Miller, the Virginia Department of Forestry state wildland fire chief, says, “I can speak with full confidence that the structures around the park are protected.”
According to Miller, the Virginia Department of Forestry has been utilizing “Dozer lines,” which are areas where bulldozers dig out any flammable vegetation in order to stop the fire from spreading.
Dozer lines were set in place Monday to protect homes in Beldor, Va., but a wind shift put the western side of the fire at risk, so on Tuesday more dozer lines were created on the west side to protect the area along Route 340.
“So now we’ve got an easterly wind, which pushes the fire back west. So if we didn’t have a line in place the fire would have been blown into those structures,” Miller told the Washington Post on Wednesday.
A number has been provided for anyone that lives close to the affected area, a hotline has been provided to call in case of emergency: 540-442-9111. However, officials are asking that you only call if you witness an actual fire burning.
Park officials say that the fire is burning in the Fire Ecology Zone, which means they will permit the fire to burn to gain “natural resource benefits” for the park’s environment.
Around 350 workers from the park service, the agriculture department and the Virginia Department of Forestry, as well as others have been deployed to fight the fire.
Shenandoah National Park says it is continuing to monitor the fire to ensure it stays in the Fire Ecology Zone.
Conditions appear to be improving, however, Andrew Woodcock, a National Weather Service fire weather forecaster says: “The last couple of days the smoke has been sort of like a flashlight beam in Rockingham County. There was a pretty fine line of smoke that has been trailing southeast of the fire.”
“Today [the smoke] is more diffuse. The winds are definitely not as strong today as they’ve been previous days,” Woodcock said.
Feature Photo: Eric Jeffrey via Twitter