UPDATE: Wildfires Extinguished in Dolly Sods Wilderness, Closure Order Lifted

Sep 24, 2016

Updated on 10-06-2016 10:50 a.m.

The Closure Order for the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area was lifted on October 5, 2016 and all trails are now open. A Fire Ban in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is still in effect due to prolonged drought and will remain in place until weather conditions improve.  Gas powered backpacking/camping stoves are allowed in the wilderness area.  The current Fire Ban no longer includes the Red Creek Campground and Dolly Sods Picnic Area.

Updated on 09-29-16 5:55 p.m.

Two out of the five wildfires in the Dolly Sods Wilderness have been completely extinguished, and two more fires have been 100 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service team that is managing the Red Creek Fires. There is a fifth fire that firefighters haven't yet been able to contain. This fire was discovered Wednesday, September 29. An explosive safety specialist has been called in to inspect the area surrounding the fifth fire to make sure there are no unexploded ordinances nearby. During World War II, the Dolly Sods Wilderness area was used as a training ground for soldiers, and many artillery and mortar shells shot into the area for practice still exist.

The southwestern portions of Dolly Sods in Tucker County are closed until further notice. The rest of the wilderness area is still open for camping and hiking.


The fires are a 4-mile hike from the nearest road. Thirty Forest Service employees are managing the fires, with the assistance of horses that have packed in supplies.

Credit courtesy U.S. Forest Service

 

Updated on 09-28-16 4:40 p.m.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are now five wildfires burning in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  All of the fires are small, less than an acre in size.  Three of the five wildfires are 80-100 percent contained.  It has been determined that three of the five wildfires were caused by unattended campfires.  The cause of the fourth and fifth fire is still under investigation.  Fire suppression efforts continue Wednesday and rain is forecasted for the next couple of days, which authorities say should help their efforts to fight the fires.

The Big Stonecoal Trail, Little Stonecoal Trail, Breathed Mountain Trail, Rocky Point Trail and Dunkenbarger Trail all remained closed in Dolly Sods. A fire ban is in place throughout most of the Dolly Sods area.

Updated on 09-26-16 9:30 p.m.

This past weekend was the peak time for tourists to visit Dolly Sods to see the leaves change for fall. But some of these visitors left behind smoldering campfires, and now four wildfires are burning in the area.

The first fire was discovered two weeks ago on September 16th. That fire is still burning, as well as three more that were discovered last Thursday, and this past weekend. Unattended campfires are believed to have caused three of the fires - and the cause of the fourth is still under investigation.

This year’s weather conditions are partly to blame, says Cliff Hensley with the Monongahela National Forest. “West Virginia  normally doesn’t have a lot of forest fires.”

But the last few months have been unusually dry. What’s especially abnormal about this year’s fires is they’re burning through the top layer of soil, catching all the dry debris, and continuing to burn as much as a foot and a half underground.

Fires this deep, Hensley said, haven’t been common here for seventy years. “Back in the ‘40s there was similar fires but nothing since."

Over thirty U.S. Forest Service employees have been on the scene working to contain the wildfires in the last few weeks. Three of the fires are 80-100 percent contained.

The first and most significant fire is still burning but is under control. Rain fell Monday evening, helping the firefighters with the suppression efforts.

All hiking and camping is temporarily prohibited in the Red Creek area, though the Northern and Eastern Portions of Dolly Sods are still open.

This is a developing story.

Updated 09-26-16 4:44 p.m.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service say two new wildfires have been identified in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Four wildfires in the Red Creek area are now under investigation.  The fires are all believed to be caused by human activity.  The fires remain small in size.

Original story: 09-24

Two wildfires are burning in the Dolly Sods Wilderness area within the Monongahela National Forest. The cause of both fires is under investigation, but it is believed they were caused by human activity.

The fires are small, less than 1 acre in size.  Fire activity has been low intensity with minimal fire spread.  At this time, Red Creek Fire #2 is 90 percent contained.  It will continue to be monitored daily for some time.  Fire suppression efforts continue with firefighters focusing on the original fire.

The Red Creek Fire was discovered on Friday, September 16, 2016.  A second fire was discovered on September 22, 2016, now called Red Creek Fire #2. 

Credit courtesy USDA Forest Service

The Forest Service has closed trails and the surrounding area due to the potential presence of unexploded ordinance in the wilderness area.  The intent is to create a safety zone of at least one-half mile around the fires to prevent injuries should the wildfire cause an undetected ordinance to explode. 

For this reason, a Forest Supervisor’s Closure Order (see map) was issued for the southwestern portion of the Dolly Sods Wilderness on September 23, 2016.  The closure order applies specifically to an area bounded by the Wilderness boundary on the west, and area 100 feet east of Forest Road 80, an area 100 feet south of Blackbird Knob Trail (TR 511), an area 100 feet west of Red Creek Trail (TR 514) and an area 100 feet north of Laneville Road (CO 45/4).

This includes all cross-country travel and travel on the following trails: Big Stonecoal Trail (TR 513), Little Stonecoal Trail (TR 552), Breathed Mountain Trail (TR 553), Rocky Point Trail (TR 554) and Dunkenbarger Trail (TR 558).

Due to dry conditions, a closure order related to outdoor burning is also in effect.  A fire ban is in place for the entire Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, the Red Creek Campground and the Dolly Sods Picnic Area.  No campfires or charcoal grills are allowed.  Gas-powered grills and backpacking stoves can still be used.

Area damaged by one of the wildfires
Credit courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Troy Waskey, Cheat-Potomac District Ranger, said, “The timing of these two closures is unfortunate with so many visitors to the Dolly Sods at this time of year.  All of the hikers and hunters that firefighters have encountered on the trails have been very understanding.” 

He said the closures will be lifted as soon as possible.  He emphasized that firefighter and public safety are his top priority.