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News / Nation & World

National Guard helicopters help battle wildfires in West Virginia

Gusty winds and low humidity cited; as many as four homes destroyed

By John Raby, Associated Press
Published: March 22, 2024, 8:42pm

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia National Guard joined in battling wildfires Friday that have scorched more than 4,000 acres in the state and destroyed several homes.

Two Blackhawk helicopters dropped water from buckets on the fires in steep, wooded terrain in Hardy County, the National Guard said on social media. The buckets hold up to 630 gallons of water.

The fires began earlier this week amid gusty winds and low relative humidity.

In Virginia, more than 100 fires popped up Wednesday, many of them in the central part of the state, forcing the closure of sections of Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail. A fire ban was put in place for all of Shenandoah National Park. Fires also were reported this week in neighboring Maryland.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency Thursday in the northeastern counties of Grant, Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton, enabling state resources to be allocated and to expedite emergency response efforts.

“Our crews are some of the best in the nation and we will continue to support efforts to combat these fires until our partners with the Division of Forestry say the danger has passed,” National Guard Lt. Col. Todd Justice said in a statement.

The statement said more equipment and National Guard personnel may be deployed if needed. Volunteer fire departments from across the state also have helped with the fires.

Paul Lewis, Hardy County’s emergency management director, said there were three ongoing fires in the county, including one initially believed to be under control that had worsened near Wardensville. As many as four homes were destroyed.