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Farmers, residents mobilize to help battle fires in Virginia

MADISON, VA—When the Quaker Run fire was inching closer to the community of Syria, Virginia, local farmers and residents mobilized to help fire crews establish a containment line and protect nearby homes and structures.

The Quaker Run fire, currently the largest wildfire in Virginia, has burned 3,937 acres and is 41% contained, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently declared a state of emergency in Madison County, as well as in Patrick County for the Tuggle Gap fire, to employ additional resources needed to combat the blazes.

Brad Jarvis, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Madison County, noted that while “we were lucky not to have any agricultural damage,” the fire did threaten some nearby homes in Syria, as well as Graves Mountain Farm & Lodges. Crews and volunteers rallied to install large containment lines to keep the fire away from the community.

“We had a lot of people volunteering—many of them farmers and bear hunters,” said Clay Jackson, chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors and vice president of Madison County Farm Bureau. “We were up there every day putting in fire lines, using leaf blowers, cutting trees and snags, just trying to keep it away.”

Many also distributed water and meals to crews working around the clock to keep the fire at bay.

“It was probably about 100 yards above our motel,” said Lucky Graves, who runs Graves Mountain Farm & Lodges with his family and serves as Madison County Farm Bureau president. “When it got close, we back-burned from our line back up to the fire” to consume the fuel in the fire’s path and stop its trajectory.

Fortunately, the fire didn’t reach the structure or any of the farm’s orchards or crops, but it did have some impact on the business’ agritourism operations.

“A couple of our cabins were right next to the mountain where the fire was,” Graves said. “We had a few cancellations, but not as many as I expected.”

Smoke in the area also “was heavier on certain days, and it was hard to get things done outside—eyes burning, a little bit harder to breathe,” Jarvis said. “It would come and go.”

While Madison County received some light rain last Friday that helped with the fire, the county and several other localities are experiencing significant drought and rainfall deficits. The National Weather Service reports that nearly the entire state is “abnormally dry” with areas experiencing severe and extreme drought levels. In addition to creating an ideal environment for wildfires, the dry conditions pose challenges for farmers.

“We’ve got a lot of crops in the ground for winter that are just kind of sitting there right now because we haven’t had any water,” Graves said.

Jarvis added that there have been losses in grazing and low hay yields, but “even though we’re short in the forages, (farmers) are making do with what they have.”

Crews continue the battle the Quaker Run fire, which is one of several active wildfires in the state. Virginia’s wildfire season runs Oct. 15-Nov. 30, and the VDOF reports that over 9,400 acres have been burned from wildfires so far.

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