By Jay Young

The prevailing notion about forest fires has evolved over the years. Once, Smokey the Bear cautioned that, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” It turns out Smokey was a bit of an idiot. Occasional fires are often essential for the health of an ecosystem. To boot, Smokey’s singleminded lunacy may have set the stage for the roaring Hells that every year buzzsaw through the US West, killing people and turning homes to ash.

Fires around the New River Gorge tend to be less furnaces and more ground fires, but they can still threaten lives and property. Nevertheless, there’s something primally hypnotic about a fire, especially a big one set amidst a dramatic landscape, like the New River Gorge. Simultaneously, it is both terrible and beautiful.

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