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Environment & Energy

Seneca Rocks Re-Opens With Forest Fire 'Mostly' Contained

Alex Nixon
90.5 WESA
Five acres of the lower slabs area of Seneca Rocks' North Peak (left) sustained fire damage after officials say fireworks were set late in the evening Saturday, July 1, 2017.

The Seneca Rocks area of West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest re-opened Friday morning after a nearly week-long, 5-acre fire tore through the western base of its north peak.

Officials said climbers should use caution when re-entering the area because of unstable footing along access routes and possible changes to climbing routes. The feature's hiking trail and observation platform were both impacted by the fire, but have been cleared of immediate hazards, officials said.

The area was closed late Sunday, July 2, with hikers and climbers still on the rocks. The Seneca Fire was initially believed to be the result of guests illegally setting off fireworks around 10 p.m. the evening before.

Incident Commander Terry Walter said hazard signs will be posted at all trail heads and other key locations making visitors aware of risks associated with the fire, which is still only 60 percent contained. Those risks include rolling, falling and unstable debris, such as rocks, trees and snags.

“We appreciate the public’s patience and support throughout this incident," said Cheat-Potomac District Ranger Troy Waskey. "We realize closing the area during the July 4th holiday was not convenient for visitors, members of the community and our climbing outfitters and guides, but it was important to ensure firefighter and public safety while we engaged the fire.”

Walter said a small contingent of firefighters will remain on the scene, which will likely continue to smolder for "at least several more days" before fully extinguishing. That's if Pendleton County doesn't get another streak of hot, dry weather, he said.

West Virginia law allows for the sale and use of fireworks, but not on public land.

The USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations is still determining an official cause.