Lt. Candler Thornton of the Knightdale Fire Department learned Saturday afternoon that he would be deploying to fight a wildfire in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Thornton had about two hours to get ready. Then he joined another Knightdale firefighter and three from the Eastern Wake Fire Department for the drive to Lake Lure, 30 miles southeast of Asheville, where a fire has now burned more than 3,400 acres. The five-man team and an Eastern Wake engine arrived at the Lake Lure command post for a briefing about 1 a.m. Sunday.
The Knightdale-Eastern Wake team are among dozens of firefighters from the Triangle who have joined colleagues from around the state in the battle against one of the largest wildfires burning through a mountainous region suffering from a prolonged drought. They went in response to a request from the N.C. State Emergency Operations Center for 100 engine companies and brush trucks to fight the Lake Lure fire, which threatens the village of Chimney Rock and surrounding homes and cottages.
“These fires continue to threaten homes and businesses in the western part of our state, as well as the safety of the people who call that area home,” Wake County Fire Services Director Nick Campasano said in a statement Tuesday. “Wake County is actively doing its part to help our colleagues get these fires under control.”
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Forty-one firefighters from 13 fire departments in Wake County have gone to Lake Lure, said Darrell Alford, the deputy director and chief of operations for Wake County Fire Services. They took with them five fire engines, 10 brush trucks and one support vehicle, Alford said. Those who deployed are a mixture of volunteer and professional firefighters.
“They’re a brotherhood, and they all come together,” Alford said.
Thornton, Knightdale’s Evan Guinn and Eastern Wake Fire Department’s Captain Brian Bunn, Henry Stubblefield and Matt Toler are scheduled to be deployed for seven days. They spent Sunday and Monday clearing brush and debris around homes in the Broad River area in case the fire switches directions. Officials said Monday that the fire is 15 percent contained, and calm weather has reduced its spread.
“Coming from my end, I do feel like it’s getting better,” Thornton said Tuesday. “Visibility has been bad. Today it’s much better. It’s easier to breathe, and temperatures feel pretty good.”
About 15 wildfires have burned about 45,000 acres in the western third of the state since Oct. 23, according to state officials. Alford said that because the wildfires have been declared a disaster by the federal government, departments that send firefighters will be reimbursed.
Among the other Triangle departments lending a hand is the Orange Rural Fire Department, which sent four firefighters and one engine to the Lake Lure area, said Pam Robinette, an administrative assistant in the department.
Durham County has sent eight firefighters and two brush trucks to Rutherford County, said Jim Groves, the county fire marshal. Brush 83 from Durham County Fire Rescue and Brush 337 from the Bahama Volunteer Fire Department have been deployed since Monday with four firefighters in each unit.
Groves added that the City of Durham hopes to deploy an engine and eight more firefighters as early as Thursday. He said the firefighters who have been deployed have been working around the clock.
“There are four of them to each brush truck,” he said. “Two people are working 12-hour shifts, while the other two sleep, then they switch. That gives 24-hour operational coverage.”
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629
Wake County fire departments have sent 41 firefighters to the mountains to help fight wildfires that have been burning since last month. The departments are: Apex, Bay Leaf, Cary, Durham Highway, Eastern Wake, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Stony Hill Rural, Wake Forest, Wendell, Western Wake and Zebulon.