Containment up on Matts Creek fire

As the Matts Creek fire grows to more than 7,600 acres, firefighters planned to take to the air to combat the blaze.
Published: Nov. 19, 2023 at 11:01 AM EST
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BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Firefighters hoped to take advantage of favorable weather conditions Sunday to further combat the Matts Creek fire, which is 27 percent contained as of Sunday evening, U.S. Forestry officials said. That’s up from 15 percent Sunday morning.

Nearly 300 people are working the 7600-acre fire, the cause of which remains undetermined.

Firefighters planned to use a helicopter to ignite ridgetops in the northwestern portion of the fire Sunday afternoon, east of Greenlee, between the James River and Belfast Creek, officials said.

The hope is favorable weather conditions will allow crews to produce a low-intensity fire which will remove vegetation fueling the fire and help protect private property.

Officials say the strategy is in response to an anticipated easterly wind Monday which could cause the fire to move to the west.

Officials said a new fire sprang up Sunday morning near Snowden but was quickly contained to only half an acre.

Click here for other stories about the Matts Creek fire.

Other notes from forestry officials:

  • Fire activity is expected to increase due to drier conditions overnight. Active fire behavior is expected all day, particularly on the eastern flank. The fire continues to move to the southeast, particularly in areas where winds align with terrain.
  • The fire was also active in the southwestern portion and burned laterally along the slope. Firefighters worked to build contingency lines (backup firelines) by using road systems to help control the forward progression of the fire. Fire Operations staff reported that there are still fire-weakened trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway that may pose a threat to public safety.
  • A drone was used for tactical firing operations along a ridgeline to check the fire’s progression. This is an area where step terrain and hazard trees make it dangerous for firefighters on the ground. Drones can perform precise firing operations, which produce less smoke.
  • Firefighters will continue to improve existing fire containment lines and patrol the Blue Ridge Parkway for burning material rolling into the roadway. Crews continue to improve and strengthen handline to the James River. Firefighters will continue to work with local fire departments to assess structures along Hunt Camp Road and along the western side of the fire. They will continue to work throughout the night to monitor and contain the fire.
  • People and equipment on the fire include 6 hand crews, 11 engines, 4 helicopters, 2 water tenders and 1 drone.

Smoke and Air Quality

Heavy smoke is likely in communities and along roadways southeast of the fire today.


Road Closures: Petites Gap Road (FSR35) is closed to all public use between the Belfast Trailhead and the Blue Ridge Parkway. This closure may be extended to the intersection of Arnold Valley Road (SR 781) and Black Run Road due to fire activity.

Blue Ridge Parkway Temporary Closure: The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed from milepost 66.3, near US Highway 501, to milepost 85.9, at VA Route 43 until further notice. Park visitors should plan for a detour from the north or south using adjacent routes and Interstate 81.

The James River Face Wilderness and all associated trails, including a section of Appalachian National Scenic Trail, are closed to all public use due to the on-going wildland fire.

The following areas are temporarily closed to allow for public and fire fighter safety:

- Locher Tract

- Glenwood Horse Trail (FT#3004) from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Hellgate Trailhead

- Appalachian Trail (FT #1) from James River Foot Bridge to Petites - Gap Road (FR #35)

- James River Foot Bridge Parking Lot

- Matts Creek Trail (FT #4/Old A.T.)

- Piney Ridge Trail (FT #2)

- Gunther Ridge Trail (FT #8)

- Belfast Trail (FT #9)

- Sulphur Springs Trail (FT# 3001)

Fire Restrictions

Stage 1 Fire Restrictions in effect: For the protection of public health and safety, the following acts are prohibited on all lands administered by George Washington & Jefferson National Forest.

1. Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire outside of developed recreation sites.

2. Possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device.

Campfires in a Forest Service provided metal fire pit, ring or grill at a developed recreation site are allowed.