DNR Police looking into cause of Sleepy Creek fire that burned 133 acres

by Kate Shunney

West Virginia Forestry crews have wrapped up patrols of Sleepy Creek Mountain in the area of a mountain fire which burned 133 acres early last week.

Regional forester Bill Pownell said Monday that the cause of the fire is still under investigation. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Police are the lead on that investigation, said Pownell.

DNR Police Officer Bradley Robertson on Monday said his investigation is ongoing into the details of how the March 21 fire started. He said early indications are that gunfire from a firearm being lawfully used may have sparked the blaze. The fire started on Log Cabin Lane, off Mountain Run Road.

Nearly all of the acreage which burned last week over two days and nights was on the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is managed by the DNR Wildlife Division.

Pownell said just two acres of the fire were on private land. He confirmed that the blaze began on private property, then quickly spread up Sleepy Creek Mountain on Monday, March 21.

County volunteer fire companies and fire units from four states worked feverishly Monday to contain the flames, which were fueled by wind and dry conditions.

Forestry crews took over containment and monitoring the fire over two nights, and patrolled the containment area through the end of last week.

Pownell said Morgan County forester Tyler Williamson was on the mountain last week watching the edges of the area, and to make sure the fire stayed “within the black.”

“There isn’t any chance of spread,” Pownell said Monday. Several days of rain and high humidity helped containment efforts.

Despite the intensity of the blaze, which could be seen for dozens of miles, Pownell said the mountainside fared okay in the fire.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of timber lost,” he said.

Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area is almost entirely covered in mature hardwood forests. These were replanted after extensive wildfires damaged the area in the first half of the 20th century.

Access to the wildlife area was temporarily closed during the fire response and investigation, but the area is now open again. Motorized vehicles are only permitted on designated roads into the area. Seasonal gates are closed except during official hunting seasons.