After several days of battling a blaze in scenic Pendleton County—notably home to Seneca Rocks—the W.Va. Division of Forestry declared the South Mill Creek fire in patrol status.
"Patrol status” means that no active fire threatens to get out of control, although smoke and hot spots may be visible, and firefighters will continue to monitor the area as a precaution, according to a press release from the division.
Crews began battling the brush fire on August 11, when it was ignited by lightning. A local landowner witnessed the strike and called the authorities, which led to a quick response by state forestry personnel and local volunteer fire departments.
Steep slopes with 50 percent grades and terrain strewn with house-sized boulders prevented the crews from reaching the area with vehicles, and that inaccessibility, coupled with heat indexes above 100 degrees, made the fire dangerous and difficult to control.
Crews tried to extinguish the fire directly with water for the first two days, though the ground was so dry that the fire burned deep into the duff layer, following the roots underground and outside of the containment area.
On the third day of their attack, the crews changed tactics to fight the fire indirectly by falling back to using wood roads as firelines and backfiring to remove the fuel between the fireline and the main fire.
Approximately 75 acres burned within the 500-acre fire perimeter, according to the division report, and no homes or structures were impacted.
Most of the fire burned with low to moderate intensity, which can be beneficial to wildlife, oak regeneration, and to fire-adapted species. Table-mountain pine, pitch pine, mountain laurel, blueberries, and huckleberry are notably expected to benefit.