Forest Service: Smoke was from VA wildfire
A smokey haze that hung in the air in eastern Pocahontas County last Tuesday was from a 2,870-acre wildfire near Buena Vista, Virginia said the U.S. Forest Service.
Starting around 3:30 p.m., the local 911 center began receiving calls of a possible fire in and around the Greenbrier Ranger District, said Pete Fischer, Forest Fire Management Officer with the USFS.
Those calls were passed on to the Forest Service, which sent crews out to look for possible wildfires on the Monongahela National Forest.
ﾓWe sent people out, and they went on a pretty extensive wild goose chase,ﾔ said Marlinton District Ranger Rondi Fischer.
Ultimately, no fire was found on the Monongahela, despite smoke that filled the air from Minnehaha Springs to Dunmore and caused the evening sky to turn shades of red as the sun set.
ﾓThe good news is, people are aware and know to call if they suspect we have a wild fire,ﾔ said Fischer. ﾓWeﾒre glad to get a call and go on the goose chase rather than have a fire and not get word of it.ﾔ
Friday marked the last day of the fire season, said Fischer. This fall, no fires were reported on the Monongahela in Pocahontas County, said Fischer. The ranger said that fact was surprising, given this seasonﾒs warm, dry and breezy weather.
Fischer said much of the forest typically has snow cover this time of year. In recent weeks, however, the area has received little precipitation and high temperatures have been unseasonably warm, hovering in the 50s and even 60s.
The Peavine Fire, which was the source of last weekﾒs smoke, blackened nearly 2,900 acres in Amherst County, Virginia, before the USFS declared it contained December 14.
The fire had spread rapidly as two blazes merged.
U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers, with assistance from Virginia State Police and sheriffs departments, are investigating the cause of the fire, according to a Forest Service media release.
Details of the investigation are not available, but the pattern of the initial fires suggested that they were deliberately set, said the Forest Service.
ﾓWe are investigating the fire as a criminal act,ﾔ said Forest Service Patrol Captain Woody Lipps. ﾓWe are leaning toward arson as the probable cause, due to the fact there hasnﾒt been any unexplained fire in that area for several years, and there were no natural events like lightning that would have caused a fire.ﾔ
The penalty for arson includes five years in prison and fines of at least $10,000. In addition, the costs for fighting the fire can also be charged to a person if they are found guilty.
The cost for the Peavine fire is currently estimated at $240,000.
More than 150 people were dispatched to fight the fire, including personnel from the USFS, National Park Service, Virginia Department of Forestry, Bureau of Indian Affairs Native American crews, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the Cold Springs Correctional Facility and local fire departments.
A squad of Forest Service smoke-jumpers from Missoula, Montana was called to assist as on-the-ground firefighters. In addition to the substantial manpower, the suppression effort was also supported by nine engines, three bulldozers and a helicopter, according to the Forest Service.
The Forest Service in Virginia is asking anyone who was visiting the area near Peavine Road or who may have information to contact its law enforcement office at 540-265-5106.
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