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Rain helps contain still-burning wildfires in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley; state sending more aid

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Crews who have been battling still-burning wildfires in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley this week have gotten an assist from rain and from the state government, which has deployed new resources to the area, officials said Saturday.

“Without a doubt the rain is helping" said Cory Swift, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Forestry, who added the agency had no reports of injuries or fatalities connected with the fires, which sprang up mid-week amid gusty winds and low relative humidity.

The fires led to trail shutdowns in the Shenandoah National Park, a smattering of evacuation orders, school closures in at least one hard-hit county, and damage to structures, the full extent of which was not yet clear.

Containment increases had been reported as of 9 a.m. Saturday on the fires that are part of the so-called Luray Complex, which are burning on a mix of private and national Forest Service land in Page County, Swift said in a phone interview. The three larger fires that make up that complex range from 50 to 70% contained and are being managed by a joint command that includes the U.S. Forest Service, Virginia Department of Forestry and local agencies, according to Swift and an update from the state agency posted on social media. One smaller 30-acre fire was 0% contained, the department said.

A separate blaze in the same vicinity known as the Rocky Branch Fire, contained mostly within Shenandoah National Park, was only 10% contained, according to a news release the park shared Saturday afternoon. Over an inch of rain had been recorded at a park weather station over the past 24 hours, “which has slowed the fire's spread,” the news release said.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement Saturday morning that fuel trucks had arrived in the area overnight as part of a regional emergency response effort his office initiated.

The state is also providing meals and provisions and bringing in additional volunteer firefighting capacity “to give our brave firefighters who have been working through the nights some respite,” the statement said.

The state's emergency management department is deploying a logistics support team as well as recovery support teams to initiate damage assessments, according to Youngkin's office.

“There continue to be heroic efforts by our firefighters and it’s a testament to their courage, commitment and service to their communities and all Virginians,” said the governor, who met in Page County with officials supporting the firefighting effort Saturday.

Youngkin's statement and visit came after Page County officials wrote to him a day earlier, asking him to issue a state emergency declaration to help with efforts to prevent further loss of property, according to correspondence posted to the county's social media pages. The letter from the chairman of the county's board of supervisors said at least 10-20 structures “are now ash" and over 3,400 acres have burned.