Communities keep watchful eye on Bedford County forest fire

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 9:28 PM EST
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BIG ISLAND, Va. (WDBJ) - Communities near the Matts Creek fire in Bedford County kept a watchful eye on its progress Friday, as an interagency incident management team took command of the response.

Residents of Big Island were breathing easier, after the thick haze that blanketed the area on Thursday lifted, but they were still focused on the fire, and the potential danger it could still bring in their direction.

Driving down US 501 from Big Island, the heavy smoke was just a few miles away. And Friday afternoon, the flames were visible near the point where the Appalachian Trail crosses the James River.

It caught the attention of people passing by, but didn’t worry forestry officials or firefighters.

Joe Mazzeo is a public information officer with the Interagency Incident Management Team.

“You can see across the river active fire, which is a slow creeping fire. It’s doing exactly what we want it to do, to help clean up the edges and make a secure fire break for the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, the interagency incident management team has established its command post at the Stonebridge Center, the old Natural Bridge High School building.

Members of the Southern Area Red Team were setting up equipment, after assuming command of the fire response Friday morning.

We saw firefighters arriving from Arizona, and the operation is drawing personnel from many states.

Joe Parr is a member of the Southern Area Red Team.

“Firefighters are coming from all over the country,” Parr told WDBJ7. “We’ve got folks from New Mexico, California, Colorado, multiple agencies that support the effort - forest service, state and local government.”

Across the street from the Big Island Volunteer Fire Company, the Big Island Baptist Church sign highlighted the burn ban, thanked firefighters and requested prayers.

We also heard concern about changing weather conditions, and the possibility that a shift in wind direction could drive the fire closer to homes in the area.

Fire officials are urging everyone to remain vigilant and fire-safe.