UPDATE: Rocky Mount Fire contained after burning Harrisonburg-sized area

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- UPDATE (April 29-30):
By Channing Frampton and Terry Ward:

Image: WHSV

The Rocky Mount Fire, the forest fire which kept many on edge for the last two weeks or so, was declared contained on Friday, April 29.

The fire burned an area is about the same size of the entire city of Harrisonburg. In all, the response cost around $3.5 million.

Though many Shenandoah National Park hiking trails remain closed, the entire Skyline Drive was reopened to public traffic. Parts of it south of Ekton had been closed due to the smoke and flames. The FAA temporary flight restriction over the area of the fire has been lifted.

Firefighters from around the country helped. Before heading home, around 60 of them on Friday joined the Grand Caverns Signature 5k run. The three-and-a-third mile run happens within the Grand Caverns park borders and proceeds benefit the park, including trail upkeep and acquisition of new outdoor exercise station equipment.

"It's community --and with the firefighters-- it just shows how much the Shenandoah Valley can come together," said Mike Betts, an area runner who helped organize the event. "The fire is out but it sure is nice to see the community really help."

The event's Facebook page said the run generated over $2,200 --and hundreds of dollars were chipped in by the firefighters themselves.

On April 30, several of the fire-closed hiking trails reopened.

Trails now open include: Appalachian Trail, Furnace Mountain Trail, Trayfoot Mountain Trail, Blackrock Trail, Doyles River Trail, Jones Run Trail, Browns Gap Fire Road, Madison Run Fire Road. Also open is the Doyles River Cabin.

Trails still closed include: Rocky Mount Trail, Gap Run Trail, Onemile Run Trail, Brown Mountain Trail, Big Run Portal Trail, Big Run Loop, Rocky Mountain Trail, Austin Mountain Trail, Lewis Peak Trail, Patterson Ridge Trail, Madison Run Spur, Rockytop Trail.

Park Superintendent Jim Northup said in a statement, “Thanks, again, to the firefighters for all their work.”

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UPDATE (April 25)
By Channing Frampton

An official managing the Rocky Mount Fire confirmed late Monday afternoon the fire has grown to 10,376 acres in size. That equates to just over 16 square miles. That's nearly the size of the City of Harrisonburg, which is just over 17 square miles.

The official also confirmed the fire is now 70 percent contained.

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UPDATE (April 24):
By Terry Ward

The Rocky Mount Fire continues burning.

Some of Sunday's new fire is there on purpose.

At times on Sunday, helicopters dropped mini-incendiaries to burn away forest debris in a controlled way, thus depriving potential new fires of fuel. WHSV's Janson Silvers filmed some of the ping pong ball-sized firebombs being deployed. It was the first use of this technique on this particular forest fire. Firebreaks 300 to 400 feet wide were made ahead of the fire line in places.

As of 7:45 p.m., authorities have updated the number of acres burned in the forest fire to 9,386. The number of working personnel ticked upward (from 342 to 356).

Drying weather in the 48 hours ahead will bring back worry that airborne sparks may ignite new fires. About 72 hours out, rain is a good possibility. Firefighters continue working to keep the fires within a designated burn area while also protecting structures. The whole forest fire might be out by the first of May.

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UPDATE (April 23):
By Terry Ward

Recent rain slowed the spread, but fires are still burning. Since April 15, almost 9,000 acres have burned. Over 340 personnel from over 30 states are still working to put the forest fire out at the edges. Inside the burn zone perimeter, it is a matter of fire-containment.

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UPDATE (April 22, 7:45 p.m.)
By Terry Ward

Authorities have updated the forest fire figures.
As of Friday night:

~ 8,952 acres burned
~ 342 personnel
~ 43 percent perimeter containment
~ 11 fire engines
~ 9 aircraft (2 small helicopters, 3 medium helicopters, 2 cropduster-style sprayer airplanes, 2 observation planes)

The estimated date for full containment is April 30 or perhaps the first of May.

The FAA has established a civilian no-fly zone above the fire. Civilian flyers must avoid the airspace for five miles on either side of the fire zone (to an altitude of 6,500 feet) to give the firefighting aircraft clear space in which to do their work. Details of the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) are online here: http://tfr.faa.gov/save_pages/detail_6_1602.html

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UPDATE (April 22, 12:30 p.m.)
By Greg Master and Emily Akiyama

The Rocky Mount Fire is now 40% contained.

"The flame lengths, which have been three to four feet are now anticipated to be in the six inch to one foot range unless influenced by wind over the next couple of operation periods, but dependent on rainfall," said the Southern Area Red Team, which is working to put out the fire.

Total fire acres are 7,935.

Red Team said:
"Crews are continuing to actively suppress spot fires in the area of Skyline Drive. Crews continue to hold and mop up along containment lines. A new operational division has been created and staffed for the southwestern section of the fire."

The Team urges the public to keep drones out of the area. Fire aircraft have to be grounded whenever a drone is spotted in the wildfire area.

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ORIGINAL STORY (April 20):
By Terry Ward with Katie Caler

The Rocky Mount Fire (as the forest fire south of Elkton in the Shenandoah National Park has been named) burned around 7,935 acres by Thursday afternoon --an area larger than half the size of Harrisonburg, Va.

Parts of Skyline Drive were closed along with areas of the Appalachian Trail and several less-well-known hiking trails. Smoke lowered visibility on some roads and even led to some sports cancellations.

Many schools decided to keep children indoors during recess. Those with health issues which could be worsened by smoke-exposure of course should avoid the smoke. Keeping windows and doors shut can help.

In places, there was a strange "rain" as ash sprinkled down from smokey but cloudless skies. Spectators from vantage points in Elkton, Massanutten, and elsewhere in Rockingham County could see fire creeping westward over the ridges on the horizon.

Those living near the fire zone should hook up an outdoor hose just in case, and also should clear away leaf-litter and other material that could readily be set ablaze by drifting sparks. Keeping shut the doors and windows of outbuildings not in use can also be helpful.

Smelling smoke does not necessarily mean fire is approaching, but rather, that wind is moving smoke your way. Those seeing fire actually threaten buildings should instead report the fire to 911. For non-emergency inquiries, an information line has been set up: (540) 442-9111.

Harrisonburg's city website said, "There are currently no evacuation shelters in place.... (if one wants to leave) they are encouraged to seek shelter with a relative, friend or at a hotel."

Two tanker airplanes and four helicopters joined the firefighting effort. Hotshot crews from out of state also have been helping. Some crews came in from as far away as New Mexico and Arizona. That information is from a statement from the Southern Area Red Team, a firefighting group active in the Southern states from Virginia to Texas. The group also partners with the U.S. National Park Service and the Va. Dept. of Forestry.

A Type 3 helicopter is relatively small with 4-8 passenger seats and room for about 100 gallons of water (a bit less than two barrels of liquid). A Type 2 is a medium size aircraft about as large as a Coast Guard rescue chopper with space for 300 gallons of water (around six barrels).

The statement from Red Team said crews purposefully burned off vegetation near the Beldor Hollow community to prevent uncontrolled fire in that area. "Crews are confident that the fire will hold at Beldor Hollow Road," Red Team said. Red Team said the fire seems to have been human-caused and is still under investigation. "Fire crews are providing structure protection near 2 Mile Run and Lam Hollow communities," Red Team said.

Skyline Drive was closed between mile 65 (Swift Run Gap) and and mile 87.5 (Blackrock Gap Road).

Red Team said Shenandoah National Park trail closures included:

~Appalachian Trail from Doyles River Overlook (mile 82) to Powell Gap (mile 70).
~Appalachian Trail's Blackrock ​H​ut
~Austin Mountain Trail
~Big Run Loop
~Big Run Portal Trail
~Doyles River Trail
~Furnace Mountain Trail
~Gap Run Trail
~Lewis Peak Trail
~Madison Run Fire Road
~Madison Run Spur
~Onemile Run Trail
~Patterson Ridge Trail
~Rocky Mount Trail
~Rocky Mountain Run Trail
~Trayfoot Mountain Trail

WHSV's Katie Caler spoke with Steven Parrish, a Red Team incident commander. Parrish said the weather has not helped so far. "One of the biggest challenges is the fuel conditions," Parrish said. "It's been an extremely dry spring in this area: upwards of three inches rainfall deficit."

Parrish said this fire is considered a Type 1 response, the highest and most critical response effort. Parrish added, they are working hard to keep the fire from growing: "We come to protect the ones who live, and work and reside in the community and we'll do everything within our power to do that."

Almost 250 firefighters and support staff are working the fire. Red Team said that in addition to the hotshot crews, cooperating groups included the: National Park Service, Virginia Dept. of Forestry, Rockingham County Dept. of Fire and Rescue, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Grottoes Volunteer Fire Dept.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote detailed information about health issues related to smoke exposure: CDC.gov/features/wildfires

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#RockyMountFire


Rocky Mtn Fire south of Elkton. Photo shared by Ahmed for WHSV