By Erica Thomas, Managing Editor

They say after a storm comes a rainbow, a symbol of hope and a promise of better times ahead. Officials at Cheaha State Park said they believe that will happen after over 1,000 acres burned over the weekend in two wildfires.

The wildfires are now contained but the park remains closed Tuesday.

The Fall Branch Fire consumed 735 acres in the southeastern part of the park. The area from Shinbone Valley to Hernandez Peak, and into the park on Alabama 281, was burned.

Renee Raney, District Manager of Cheaha State Park, Wind Creek State Park and Oak Mountain State Park, has been monitoring the situation closely. Raney said the cause of that fire has not been confirmed.

“We kind of believe the Fall Branch Fire may have been a debris fire or maybe a campfire that was left unattended,” said Raney. “But we’re not sure. We don’t suspect any foul play or anything.”

Raney said the Duck Nest Fire burned 375 acres. The fire was in the Pulpit Rock Trail, a popular hiking destination, and down into the cliff space of that area. It spread into the Talladega National Forest on the west side of the park.

The cause of the Duck Nest Fire, Raney said, was likely a broken power line.

The USDA Forest Service and the Alabama Forestry Commission are handling the investigations into both wildfires. Forest crews and around 140 firefighters from nine southeastern states have been in the area primarily in Clay County, but also in Cleburne and Calhoun Counties. Among those assisting in fighting the fires were local fire departments, including volunteer fire departments, Talladega National Forest crews, and the Alabama Strike Team. Raney called it a “community effort.”

The crews were on call 24/7 and are now monitoring the smoldering park to ensure hot spots do not reignite.

“They’re [the fires are] currently contained and they are being worked to try and make sure this dry weather doesn’t induce any more sparks,” Raney said.

No injuries have been reported.

As for wildlife, Raney said she has been in talks with a biologist who told her he didn’t think there was a big impact.

“This isn’t a season for nesting or breeding for anything really so we haven’t seen any issues,” Raney said.

As for the rainbow after the storm, Raney said the biologist believes the wildfires could mean more wildflowers in the spring.

“The neat thing is the biologist said this could increase wildflower blossoms for this spring,” Raney said. “And I heard that [after] the fire in the Smoky’s, they had the prettiest wildflower spring that next year and it sort of is like the resurrection of nature.”

Officials at the park hope to be able to bring back overnight guests Tuesday after evaluating the area and removing equipment.

“We evacuated our guests pretty early just to be safe,” said Raney. “We hated to see them go because we love our guests, but it was no problem. The guests were really understanding and everybody has been so kind and supportive.”

The park will remain closed to the public until further notice. Cheaha State Park will provide updates on Facebook.

In the meantime, Raney said she is thankful for the all-out efforts of those who helped to contain the fires.

“It has been a blessing,” said Raney. “Everyone has worked good together.”