Crews in the area will continue to conduct fire repair operations on the interior of the burned area during the evening.
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service says Petite’s Gap Road has been reopened at this time and the rest of the fire area will be reopened to the public at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The forest service reminds hikers reentering the area to take special care and watch for fire-weakened trees and unstable, burned ground, especially in wet or windy areas.
UPDATE: 11/27 AT 11:05 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)– The U.S. Forest Service is reporting the Matts Creek Fire is now 95% contained without the fire spreading further.
According to the fire service, no hotspots were located on the perimeter of the Matts Creek fire and only minimal smoke was observed in the fire’s interior.
Crews will continue to spread grass seeds and repair the dozer line, with all repairs to the fire’s perimeter expected to be completed on Monday. The Type 3 Incident Management Team’s goal is to reach 100% containment by dark on Monday.
After observation, crews will begin repair work shortly within the interior of the burned area in the deepest parts of the James River Face wilderness. This includes sections of the Appalachian and Sulpher Springs trails to ensure it is secure and safe for public reentry.
(Photo Courtesy, U.S. Forest Service)
The forest service says although drier, cooler conditions, along with high winds and gusts are expected in the air, no fire spread is expected at this time.
WFRX News will update as further information is released.
UPDATE: 11/26 AT 2:23 P.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — It’s been exactly two weeks since the Matts Creek wildfire ignited in the Jefferson National Forest in Bedford County.
During that time, over 300 first responders helped establish containment lines along the perimeter of the fire. Over the first week, the blaze quickly spread to over 800 acres.
This led to heavy smoke and poor air quality in surrounding communities. As a result, several school districts were forced to close as conditions continued to worsen with the growth of the fire.
The large fire scorched 11,020 acres and is now about 93% contained.
Overnight crews patrolled the Blue Ridge Parkway and extinguished one hotspot near the fire line on the Northwest perimeter.
The U.S. Forest Service says crews are continuing to assess damages and identify hazards that are impacting trail safety.
“Although we’ve discovered a bit more work on the interior than we expected, the dry weather is helping us make good, safe progress on the repairs,” said Incident Commander Frank Guzman. “We will do our very best in the current weather conditions to leave the fire line and impacted trails in good shape.”
UPDATE: 11/25 AT 9:38 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed that the Matts Creek wildfire is now 93% contained.
Firefighters are continuing suppression repair and post-fire hazards. Officials say over the weekend, predicted high winds on Sunday can lead to fire-weakened trees to fall. Crews are working to reduce any hazardous conditions and reduce erosion along the trails.
UPDATE: 11/25 AT 9:38 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Throughout the night firefighters continued containment efforts on the Matts Creek wildfire.
The blaze has been burning for almost two weeks, however, crews have achieved 91% containment. The fire was first reported on Sunday, Nov. 12, and rapidly spread to over 11,000 acres.
For several days the fire has remained at 11,020 acres and crews have been able to hold containment lines.
Even with this progress, the Appalachian and Belfast Trail remain closed. Fire Resource Advisor Pete Irvine says crews are accessing the area to make sure it is safe to reopen to the public.
UPDATE: 11/24 AT 9:13 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Southern Area Red Team says a different crew will be taking over the Matts Creek wildfire as containment efforts continue to rise.
Operations Chief Troy Floyd says infrared was flown across the fire area yesterday, as part of the transition plan. He says crews picked up heat away from the lines, and any heat along the containment lines has been addressed.
The fire is now 88% contained. Floyd says crews were able to rehab all of the suppression efforts where the fire first ignited.
The U.S. Forest says there is still heat and hotspots of vegetation burning, but they do not pose a threat. On Friday, firefighters will continue to patrol lines and check for any issues.
UPDATE: 11/23 AT 1:40 P.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Southern Area Red Team says crews worked Thanksgiving Day to put out remaining hotspots at the Matts Creek wildfire. Locals may continue to see smoke, but officials say there is no expected risk of fire spread.
After achieving 84% containment at 11,020 acres, ground crews worked Thursday to mop up remaining hot spots on the eastern side of the fire. The Red Team says they’ll begin repair efforts with “special attention to the Appalachian Trail,” and patrols will continue along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Petites Gap Road remains closed to all public use between the Belfast trailhead and the Parkway.
UPDATE: 11/23 AT 5:20 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Matts Creek wildfire has been burning for over a week and crews have made huge progress.
After burning in the Jefferson National Forest and hitting the Blue Ridge Parkway, the U.S. Forest reports the blaze is now 84% contained.
This comes after almost four inches of rain poured over the fire area on Tuesday afternoon. Officials say the rain did not completely put out the fire but it helped.
UPDATE: 11/22 AT 9:27 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — After heavy rainfall across the region, firefighters will be using drones to identify any remaining sources of heat across portions of the wildfire. Crews will continue to patrol and mitigate any hazards or issues that may pose a threat.
At this time, the blaze remains at 11,020 acres and is 57% contained.
Throughout the day, communities in the area can expect foggy conditions with good air quality.
The U.S. Forest Service, says firefighters have cleared fire-weakened trees and other debris on and along the parkway. As a result, the Blue Rudge Parkway is now open.
UPDATE: 11/20 AT 9:30 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)– After a nearly full day of rain across the Commonwealth, The Incident Information System’s website says the Matts Creek wildfire is now 57% contained.
The fire is currently burning across 11,020 acres.
WFXR News will update as further information is released.
UPDATE: 11/20 AT 9:30 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)–The U.S. Department of Forestry have released an update on the wildfire in the Matts Creek area of Bedford County.
According to the Department of Forestry, the current size of the fire is 11,016 acres and containment has increased to 33%.
The U.S. Department of Forestry says successful firing operations over the past two days have helped strengthen containment lines all around the perimeter. The goal of this operation was to introduce low intensity fire to help strengthen the containment lines and remove unburned vegetation between these containment lines and active fire front. By doing this, crews are protecting forest resources and communities to the west of the fire.
Today, crews will start taking advantage of the rain, cleaning up smoldering logs and stumps along the lines. The department of forestry says no additional fire spread is expected today.
As for the current smoke outlook, pockets of heavy smoke that settled overnight were expected to receive rinsing rains between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. By the late morning, the department of forestry hopes any suspended smoke particles will be scrubbed down by the rain and its elements. They expect minimal smoldering and smoke impacts over the next few days.
For the latest information on the Matts Creek wildfire, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry’s website. https://virginiapublic.firesponse.com/
WFXR News will continue to update this story as further information is released.
According to the incident management teams, firefighters conducted a firing operation south of Glasgow and east of Greenlee between the James River and Belfast Creek using a helicopter on Sunday, Nov. 19. By removing the fuel, firefighters will provide added protection for the surrounding communities by decreasing the risk of intense fire behaviors, preventing further spread of the fire and long-term smoke.
With favorable conditions, crews took advantage of the situation leading to a successful operation in producing a low-intensity burn with no spot fires reported. A low-intensity fire can decrease leaf litter, remove brush, moderate fire behavior, and will cause little to no damage to the surrounding environment. This strategic firing moved the fire over slopes to a flatter terrain, which allowed firefighters to engage the fire in a safer area and provided a greater chance to stop the fire from spreading west.
On Monday, Nov. 20, crews are working within the strategic burn location to extinguish areas of heat and monitor the fire. Currently, there are six hand crews, 15 engines, four helicopters, two water tenders, and one drone present in the Matts Creek area.
Firefighters will also continue to improve existing fire containment lines and patrol the Blue Ridge Parkway for burning materials rolling in the roadway. They will continue to assess structures along Hunt Camp Road on the western side of the fire and develop a protection plan for the area if needed.
For the latest information on the Matts Creek Wildfire, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry’s website. https://virginiapublic.firesponse.com/
UPDATE: 11/19 AT 6:30 P.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) –The Matts Creek wildfire remains at 7,614 acres, but is now 27% contained.
On Sunday, helicopters ignited low-intensity fire along the ridgetops.
UPDATE: 11/19 AT 11:28 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Sunday, Nov. 19 marks a week since the Matts Creek wildfire ignited in the Jefferson National Forest, and crews are continuing to battle the large blaze.
The fire has now burned 7,614 acres and is continuing to rage through the James River Face Wilderness and Blue Ridge Parkway. Nearly 300 personnel have responded to the scene and the wildfire is 15% contained.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, firefighters are planning to use a helicopter to “ignite ridgetops” in the northwestern section of the fire, between the James River and Belfast Creek. Officials say firefighters will take advantage of today’s weather to produce a low-intensity fire which will remove vegetation, and protect private communities and the forest.
Flames continue to move around in the heavy leaf litter and shrubs within the Thunder Ridge NF Wilderness Area, southeast of Natural Bridge. The U.S. Forest reports light winds will slow the fire activity and rescue smoke production into the evening.
“This strategy is in response to an anticipated easterly wind tomorrow which could cause the fire to move to the west. Firefighters hope to proactively engage the fire ‘on our terms,'” said the U.S Forest in a release.
UPDATE: 11/18 AT 6:50 P.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Matts Creek wildfire continues to blaze through the James River Face Wilderness and Bedford County.
Since Saturday morning, the fire has grown over 800 acres and has officially burned 6,835 acres of land. The large blaze is now 15% contained.
The Bedford County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Janet Blankenship says no evacuations have been ordered at this time.
The department says local first responders are closely monitoring control lines and are patrolling them 24/7. This may lead to residents seeing trucks in the Big Island area.
“We prepare for emergencies 365 days a year. That’s our job. We have a plan in place and want to assure local residents that we are working around the clock in collaboration with the Southern Area Red Team to monitor local conditions,” said Blankenship.
UPDATE: 11/18 AT 10:51 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — All eyes remain on the Matts Creek wildfire as the blaze continues to explode in size in the James River Face Wilderness and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The fire has reached almost 6,000 acres and is continuing to leave sheets of smoke in surrounding communities. This has resulted in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issuing an air quality health alert to more than five counties across central Virginia.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, a fire watch is in effect for Nov. 18, due to a combination of gusty northwest winds and critically low humidity. By the afternoon, humidity will be around 15-20% which increases fire activity and smoke.
Overnight, firefighters conducted a tactical firing operation yesterday afternoon into this morning on the south portion of the fire. Officials say the goal was to introduce a low-intensity fire to help strengthen containment lines and remove unburned vegetation between the lines and active fire front.
The photo captures the Matts Creek wildfire from Big Island
on the night of Nov. 17. (Photo Courtesy: John Mann)
At the western end of the fire, bulldozers from the Glenwood Pedlar Ranger District cleared all but 1,500 feet of firelines along the Glenwood Horse Trail. This made it possible for fighters to use vehicles to manage the spread of the blaze as it reached control lines.
However, officials say due to the shift of winds out of the northwest, crews are keeping a close eye on the southern end of the fire.
“We will continue to keep a good eye on this end today to make sure the fire stays where it is supposed to be,” said Mark Jamieson, the Operations Section Chief. “We will continue to watch the Blue Ridge Parkway, because the parkway is downhill from the fire. Trees are falling, rocks are rolling, but we are catching them as they come to the road.”
As a result of the growing fire, the following areas are now closed to the public:
- The entire James River Face Wilderness and all associated trails, including a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Petites Gap Road between the Belfast Trailhead and the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Arnold Valley Road (SR 781)
Back in the community, volunteer firefighters from Big Island began patrolling communities on Friday night to check lines and to ensure the fire stayed at the bay. These patrols continued around 5 a.m. on Nov. 18 with additional firefighters from Boonsboro and Forest.
Firefighters said if you see their fire truck near your house or in your driveway, to not be alarmed.
“Some apparatus may be staged as well. Again, we are simply being prepared if something goes wrong. As for emergencies not related to the fire, the Bedford Fire Department will be assisting us with those,” shared the Big Island Volunteer Fire Company Inc. in a social media post.
UPDATE: 11/17 AT 12:27 P.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed the Matts Creek wildfire has now grown to approximately 5,148 acres. The fire is still about 2% contained.
Despite the growing blaze, the Operation Section Chief Troy Floyd, from the Southern Area Red Team says personnel have made a lot of progress. He said overnight the fire began to spread to Petites Gap Road, but crews worked to establish containment lines.
“Crews made a lot of progress, especially along the southern end and also around the eastern end. Crews are doing really well,” said Floyd.
According to officials, the fire is so large, that it is being divided into different areas.
Joe Mazzeo with the U.S. Forest Service, says operations will continue to patrol the area that was burned overnight. Mazzeo says more than 250 personnel were called to help battle the blaze, and more are coming from across the country to help.
First responders have a fire line at Snow Creek and Petite Gap Road. Crews are trying to use this line to trap the blaze.
Officials say their goal today is to continue to establish and hold containment lines from last night.
One Glasgow resident and parent, Aaron Nick says he is not worried that the fire will get to him, but all the smoke is not good.
“When we come in we could see the ashes falling, and my daughter actually stuck her hand out to catch it. It was a burned leaf, not even ash,” said Nick.
UPDATE: 11/17 AT 6 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Over the last five days, the Matts Creek wildfire swiftly spread throughout the Jefferson National Forest.
What started as a five-acre wildfire has now scorched approximately 3,600 acres of land in Bedford County. Within 48 hours the fire quickly grew more than 1,000 acres causing clouds of smoke to loom over surrounding areas.
However, as the fire continued to burn through the Jefferson National Forest, more than 200 firefighters and support staff responded.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the fire has burning primarily within the James River Face Wilderness, where motorized equipment and aircraft are normally prohibited. The department says during the early response to the fire, crews were authorized to use chainsaws, leaf blowers, portable pimps, and aircraft to suppress the wildfire.
But as crews continue to work, air quality concerns have risen among many residents in surrounding areas.
On Nov. 16, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a code red air quality alert for Amherst, Bedford, Rockbridge, and Nelson Counties. Due to heavy smoke from the blaze, several schools in the area have canceled classes for Friday, Nov. 17.
“We don’t have enough wind to carry the smoke away. So when that happens the smoke does tend to drop into the low-level areas. At night especially, we aversion layers. So the smoke will drop into those valleys and people see and smell smoke a lot more at night, which we understand is quite concerning,” said Stephanie Chapman, U.S. Forest Service Spokesperson.
This wildfire is on the National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway lands in Bedford and Rockbridge Counties. Firefighters are pacing along the perimeter of the fire to establish containment lines. The blaze remains at about 2% contained.
To check the air quality in your area, click here.
WFXR’s Hazelmarie Anderson contributed to this report.
UPDATE: 11/16 AT 11:16 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Matts Creek wildfire has now burned about 2,750 acres in the Jefferson National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service reports the large blaze remains on National Forest lands and is south of US 501 and the James River; however, the fire is about 2% contained.
As the fire grew, clouds of heavy smoke could be seen hovering across several surrounding counties including Lexington, Amherst County, Campbell County, and Rockbridge County. The U.S. Forest Service says winds will be light today, which has resulted in smoke being visible in nearby communities.
UPDATE: 11/16 AT 8:29 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)— As a wildfire continues to rage through the Jefferson National Forest, air quality concerns have risen across the county leading for schools to close.
On Nov. 16 Lexington City Schools and the Rockbridge County Public Schools closed due to air quality concerns in the area. Big Island Elementary School also announced that students will be dismissed early due to worsening conditions.
Serena Lilly, a Natural Bridge resident and mom, says on Wednesday morning when she put her daughter on the bus, it wasn’t too bad, but things got worse as the day continued.
“When she got home yesterday, getting her off the bus, all you could smell was the smoke I couldn’t see the mountains, I couldn’t see anything,” Lilly told WFXR News. “She got off the bus actually wearing a mask, and her teacher told her to put it on because of the air quality outside.”
She says her daughter does have allergies and she is worried about the air quality, but she is happy that school was canceled.
According to the U.S. Forest, approximately 120 firefighters continue to fight the blaze, and there are no structures threatened, at this time.
WFXR’s Hazelmarie Anderson contributed to this report.
In a statement to WFXR News, Stephanie Chapman with the forest service says the wildfire is currently burning 2,500 acres and there is no current update on the containment level. The fire is still all within the James River Face Wilderness, meaning there are no immediate threats to any structures. The James River Face Wilderness will remain closed to the public.
There are 120 firefighters and support staff members, four fire crews, one type six engine, three helicopters dropping water all working to contain the fire, and support staff including a hit shot crew. Crews have been out there working from first sunlight to dark in the continued effort.
U.S. Forest Service believes the containment time will depend on multiple factors, including weather and terrain. Since the remote location is steep and rocky, the forest service cannot use a bulldozer or chainsaw to provide help. Firefighters are currently on foot and using other tactics to navigate through the wildfire. However, new resources are coming in every day, and they expect to have more coming in very soon.
Chapman states that since winds are light, people can expect a lot of smoke in the area and throughout the entire region. She believes smoke could travel as far as Harrisonburg. Currently according to AirNow.gov, air quality remains in the good section on the air quality scale.
In response, the National Park Service has announced a temporary closure on the Blueridge Parkway to assist in fire crews’ efforts. The parkway will close from milepost 66.3 near U.S. Highway 501 to milepost 85.9 at VA Route 43.
Behind the closed gates, the Parkway is closed to all motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. The National Park Service says park visitors should plan for a detour from the north or south using adjacent routes and I-81.
Park officials are working with multiple area agencies in response to current and predicted weather and fuel conditions.
For more information on parkway’s closure, visit George Washington & Jefferson National Forests – Alerts & Closures (usda.gov).
UPDATE 11/15 AT 11:45 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — As crews continue to assess the Matts Creek wildfire the blaze has now scorched about 1,400 acres in Bedford County.
Currently, the wildfire is not a threat to any structures and is still within the James River Face Wilderness and National Forest.
The fire is still 0% contained at this time.
(courtesy, Hazelmarie Anderson)
UPDATE 11/15 AT 7:37 A.M. BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The Matts Creek wildfire has now grown to about 1,200 acres.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the fire is still 0% contained. The blaze is located in the Glenwood Pedlar Ranger District and is five miles southeast of Glasgow and five miles northwest of Big Island.
At this time, large plumes of smoke remain visible in portions of the county. There are no structures threatened at this time, and the cause has not yet been determined.
Officials are encouraging the community to only call 911 if they see active flames or have reason to believe there is a brush fire nearby.
BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)—The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are reporting an active wildfire at Matt’s Creek in the James River Face Wilderness on the Jefferson National Forest on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
According to the forest service, the fire was first reported on Sunday, Nov. 12. It is located south of US-501 and is currently five miles southeast of Glasgow and five miles northwest of Big Island. The entire fire is reportedly on National Forest Land.
The forest service believes the wildfire is currently estimated to be 150 acres and 0% contained. Fire crews are currently working on the scene.
Restrictions and closures are currently in place around the wildfire to ensure safety for the public and firefighters. These areas all are a part of the James River Face Wilderness and its associated trails. Areas currently closed are:
- Appalachian Trail from James River Foot Bridge to Petite’s Gap Road
- James River Foot Bridge Parking Lot
- Matts Creek Trail
- Piney Ridge Trail
- Balcony Falls Trail
- Gunther Ridge Trail
- Belfast Trail
- Sulphur Springs Trail
The Department of Forestry says the safety of the public and firefighters is always the number one priority when dealing with wildfires. They ask to use caution and obey all road signs when traveling near the wildfire because drivers need to be alert for firefighter vehicles and smoke.
For fire updates on the wildfire’s status, visit www.inciweb.wildfire.gov/vavaf-matts-creek-fire.