Investigators seek Shenandoah Park fire cause

SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, Va. -- The 105-mile Skyline Drive, which runs the length of Shenandoah National Park, reopened following a two-week fire, the biggest in the park's history.

Fires, which broke out Oct. 29, at the end of the fall foliage season and after a month without rain, destroyed more than 24,000 acres in the central area of the park. Originally, the fires were concentrated in two areas: Rag Mountain and The Pinnacles. The blazes later merged. More than 800 firefighters from 27 states at fought the fire at its peak.

A 10-mile stretch of Skyline Drive, from mile 31 (distance from Front Royal) to mile 41, at Skyland, were closed during the period. Visitors could still enter the park at Thornton Gap (Highway 211) and travel north to Front Royal. They also could enter at Swift Run Gap (Highway 33) and travel north as far as Skyland or south to Waynesboro (Interstate 64).

Skyline Drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Front Royal in the north, 72 miles west of Washington, to Waynesboro in the south.

Although some trails remain closed, a spokeswoman said, "we have 516 miles of trails, so visitors should not be affected."

The fire was slow-moving and is believed to have had little effect on animal life, which includes black bear and deer.

The lodge at Skyland and the park's Big Meadows campground remained open.

The spokeswoman said a team of specialists is inspecting the damage. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

With views of central Virginia to the east, and Shenandoah Valley to the west, the park covers 198,081 acres and received 1.35 million visitors last year.

For further information, call the park at (540) 999-3500 or visit its Web site at www.nps.gov/shen.

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