Shenandoah Closes Trails, Bans Campfires as Wildfire Spreads in National Park

This article originally appeared on Outside

Shenandoah National Park officials closed two trails on Saturday after the Quaker Run Fire breached a containment line and entered the park. The entire Wilhite Wagon Trail and the Graves Mill Trail from Staunton River Trail to the Rapidan Fire Road are closed until further notice.

The Quaker Run Fire ignited on October 26, just outside of the park boundary. It began as a 20-acre brush fire but slowly grew to a size of about 2,800 acres. As of Monday, 670 acres of the park were engulfed by flames.

Although the fire has been slow to grow, high wind and drought conditions have made it difficult to contain. Kevin Dawson, a spokesman with Virginia's Department of Forestry told the Daily Progress: "When we originally started with this, we were hoping to keep this as small as possible, but the terrain on the side of the mountains, the steep terrain and the amount of rock, made it difficult for our crews to reach it." He added: "The perimeter has gotten larger because of that."

On Friday, November 3, the fire drew close to a powerline on the east side of the park, prompting officials to shut off the power. The Big Meadows area was most impacted by the shutdown, causing early seasonal closures and limited services. The Big Meadows Lodge, restaurant, and retail outlet is now closed for the season, nearly two weeks earlier than expected. The remaining end-of-season reservations have been canceled.

The Big Meadows Wayside, Visitor's Center, Skyland Resort, and Lewis Mountain Cabins remain open and operational through the use of generators, although some services may be suspended until further notice.

While no structures have been impacted by the fire, the Madison County Sheriff's office is encouraging nearby residents to evacuate the area.

In addition to the trail closures, officials issued a hiking advisory for Whiteoak Canyon and the park's most popular peak, Old Rag. A park notice states: "Visitors will encounter smoke in some areas of the park due to a fire burning on private, public, and park land on the eastern boundary near Whiteoak and Old Rag. Please avoid the area."

While the trails are currently open, smoke levels could reach unhealthy to very unhealthy levels. Since both trails require a fair amount of exertion, officials are encouraging visitors to stay away. On Tuesday, the park also announced it was putting a fire ban in place until further notice.

Currently, smoke levels are thickest in the central area of the park and in the surrounding communities. Those who venture into the park are encouraged to take precautions and to evaluate the air quality via the Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program. Updates to the park's operations and closures can be found here.

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