PETERSBURG, W.Va. -- As of Friday morning, the 1,400-acre Smoke Hole fire in the Monongahela National Forest was about 30 percent contained, thanks to efforts by an army of 155 firefighters making use of a water-dropping helicopter, five fire engines and two fire line-cutting bulldozers.
On Thursday, firefighters used rakes, shovels, bulldozers and chain saws to remove vegetation and leaf litter from fire lines and to remove trees that had fallen across the lines. Today, fire crews are focusing on the northern edge of the fire, while patrolling and mopping the southern end of the fire, which has been contained, and the eastern edge, reported to be cooling down nicely.
The fire, burning about three miles northeast of Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County, began Sunday on private land adjacent to Monongahela National Forest property and quickly spread into the federally managed land. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
The Smoke Hole fire is the largest wildfire to take place on the Monongahela National Forest in more than 30 years, according to Kate Goodrich-Arling, the forest's public information officer.
Bulldozers are being used to clear older roads in the national forest for use as firebreaks and to secure a wide fire line around nearby private lands. A helicopter equipped with a drop bucket is making airborne water drops as needed.
"Having the helicopter is a really safe and effective way to put the fire out in rough terrain," said Troy Waskey, district ranger for the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District. "All of us are working toward the same goal of completely suppressing this fire as aggressively and safely as possible."
The Smoke Hole fire is being cooperatively managed by the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from the Petersburg, Moorefield, Franklin, Upper Tract and Seneca Rocks volunteer fire departments.
An emergency closure order remains in effect for a section of the Monongahela National Forest surrounding the fire, including the area between W.Va. 28/55 and Secondary Route 23 to Eagle Rock.
So far, no structures have been damaged in the fire.