NORTH WOODSTOCK, N.H. – An expanding brush fire that has been fanned by steady winds and has spread to about 70 acres has forced the early closure of the Lost River Gorge, an area popular with hikers and explorers, before one of its busiest weekends of the season.
The fire started Tuesday on a cliff in Kinsman Ridge over the gorge, said firefighters, who were unsure of the cause. More than 70 state, local and U.S. Forest Service firefighters battled the fire and several smaller spot fires Thursday.
The fire is on property in North Woodstock owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the White Mountain National Forest. The Society and the White Mountain Attractions Association, which leases and operates the area, agreed on Thursday to close Lost River Gorge effective immediately, instead of Oct. 15.
"Columbus Day weekend is one of our busiest, so this will come at some cost," White Mountain Attractions president Jayne O'Connor said in a statement released by state forest rangers. "But getting this fire contained is clearly the higher priority."
The Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves, in Kinsman Notch in the White Mountains, were forged by the forces of water, wind and weather beginning millions of years ago, when water from melting ice carried debris, eroding the rocks, the gorge's website says.
The steep and rugged terrain of the area pose significant challenges for the firefighters, and the safety of the public and the firefighters remained the focus during containment efforts, forest ranger Capt. Douglas Miner said. The command team fighting the fire had asked the Society and White Mountain Attractions to close the gorge for that reason.
The Society's president/forester, Jane A. Difley, said the team fighting the fire had "a very challenging task."
"The slopes where the fire is burning are extremely steep, making this fire particularly dangerous for those working to contain the fire on the ground," she said.
Firefighters pleaded with the public not to use drones near the fire because of the safety threat they pose to helicopters flying over to drop water on it.
An emergency closure order issued by the Society for portions of the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which runs along the Appalachian Trail, and surrounding areas remained in effect.