Reporter: David Tate
Alleghany Co., VA - As wildfires continue to burn across Virginia, in Alleghany County alone, just under 12,000 acres have been affected. Now three of the four fires in that county have merged into one.
All three fires started last Saturday along a rail line, and in the past five days the combined total burned in this fire is nearly 8,000 acres.
Along Dunlap Creek, just outside of Hematite, the smoke of burning underbrush fills the valley. As does the sound of chainsaws coming from crews working to clear anything in the fire's path that can burn.
"Day after day of extremely high wind conditions. That combined with very low humidity for Virginia for this time of year; in the teens, has resulted in what we're calling a historic event marked by catastrophic fire," said Patrick Sheridan, district ranger 38 in the James River District.
Sheridan says his biggest concern is the 8,000 acre plus Alleghany Tunnels fire, which started out as three fires along the CSX rail line last weekend.
"They were all about a mile apart and after two days two of the fires grew together, and after three days it all became one fire and that's what we've been managing since," said Sheridan.
Investigators aren't sure what caused the breakout, but wildfires have a history of being ignited by passing trains.
"It's because of carbon being expelled through the stacks of the engines... usually going upgrade. Going downgrade, historically it's been caused by brake shoes," said Alan Craft with the Southern Blue Team.
But what's important is managing it to the point it won't take out any houses, which actually is easier now that the fire is one.
"It actually does make our job a little bit simpler just dealing with one perimeter and one set of fire circumstances," said Sheridan.
A windshift earlier Thursday brought flames down the mountain in the Dunlap Creek area instead of up the mountain, which has created concern there among residents and officials alike.
The good news is that 15 to 20 men crews from as far away as Arizona are in the county trying to keep those houses safe.