In many ways, federal Forest Service officials had no choice.
The rugged, treacherous North Mountain terrain has made fighting a forest fire in rural Grant County difficult right from the start.
But it has also continued to grow since being reported Monday, so that’s a big part of the reason a new tool was brought to the scene today.
A helicopter flew over the North Fire this afternoon, and may be used to drop water if possible.
“It really is very steep and that’s another reason we brought in the helicopter because we’ve got to keep the people fighting this fire safe,” said public information officer Kelly Bridges.
The growing fire, located approximately 12 miles west of Petersburg in the Monongahela National Forest, has a new designation due to its “extended duration and complexity.”
And that’s not good news.
For example, the fire was five acres in the beginning but had grown to 25 acres this morning, and had reached 50 acres by mid afternoon, she said.
“That kind of growth in the day is typical with a wild fire when it hits up in the afternoon when the weather is its warmest. So these fires very often do grow in the afternoon.”
Fire officials have already closed the North Fork Mountain Trail to the public from the Landis Trail to the Redman Run Trail.
Additional closures are now being evaluated.
Flying over in a helicopter makes it possible to get a better overview of the blaze, especially since hiking around the fire in a timely manner would be very difficult due to the terrain.
“If we can find a water source nearby, we can use it to drop water on the fire. And sometimes they will set up a water tank if they can find a clearing close by, but then they have to try to get water to the tank.”
A new incident commander also arrived today, and additional crews will be on the scene Friday.
Twenty five firefighters are now assigned to the fire.
Its cause is not yet known, and is still under investigation.
The state’s fall forest fire season began Oct. 1 and runs through mid November.
Since conditions are so dry, officials are urging the public to be especially careful with campfires, cigarettes and anything else that could ignite a blaze.
There is no significant rain forecast for the area now being burned, at least not in the immediate future.
Temperatures are expected to remain near 80 degrees on Friday as a warm front stalls to the north. Unseasonably warm and humid conditions may continue into the first of next week.
“So it really is important how things go through the weekend, and we have to get through it. That’s one of the reasons the helicopter was brought in,” she said.