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Emergency closure issued for Smoke Hole area

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Forest Service officials issued an emergency closure late Wednesday for the area around Smoke Hole in Pendleton County, where a wildfire that broke out Sunday continues to blaze.

The fire has already charred nearly 1,400 acres and spread into Monongahela National Forest land on North Fork Mountain.

The closure order restricts access to land in the vicinity of the Smoke Hole fire on the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District of the forest, according to a news release.

Earlier Wednesday, officials described the fire as 20 percent contained, with firefighters making good progress under challenging conditions to maintain suppression efforts on the southern end of the fire.

"This is an unusual fire," said fire suppression operations chief Pete Irvine. On Tuesday, Irvine said, fire crews had to deal with "fire burning actively against the wind in a snowstorm."

On Wednesday, fire crews were working to hold and improve existing fire lines, build new lines, and directly fight the fire when and where it is safe.

The Smoke Hole fire is being cooperatively managed by a unified command structure involving the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service. Two 20-person fire crews, five fire engines and a helicopter are involved in fighting the fire on public lands while firefighters from the Franklin, Upper Tract, Seneca Rocks and Petersburg volunteer fire departments are fighting the fire on private lands. Additional personnel and equipment have been requested.

Forest Road 79 remains closed to the public because of safety concerns, as does the North Fork Mountain Trail from its intersection with the Landis Trail south to a trailhead off U.S. 33.


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