Behind the scenes fighting western North Carolina wildfires
After weeks of work by hundreds of firefighters, capped by several days of rain, the wildfires that burned more than 60,000 acres in Western North Carolina are now nearly all under control.
Firefighters have created lines around the largest fires in the state – including Party Rock Fire near Lake Lure, the Chestnut Knob Fire in Burke County and the Boteler Fire in Clay County – and are confident they will not spread beyond them, said Brian Hanes, spokesman for the N.C. Forest Service. About 2,500 firefighters and other personnel worked through Thanksgiving to fight the fires, most of which are believed to be man-made.
“Thanks to the hard work of firefighters, whose efforts were aided by rain this weekend, the fires are now under control,” Hanes said.
Hanes noted that fires that originated outside the state and moved into North Carolina are also almost entirely contained. The Pinnacle Mountain Fire, which started in South Carolina, is 100 percent contained, and the Rock Mountain Fire, from Georgia, is 95 percent contained.
Counties in the western portion of the state saw consistent rain and lower temperatures over the weekend – ideal conditions for fighting fires.
Riva Duncan, fire management officer with the National Forest Service in North Carolina, emphasized that the hard work of firefighters should be credited with tamping down the flames.
“They made most of the progress on their own, and then the rain helped,” said Duncan.
There were as many as 34 wildfires in North Carolina’s national forests at the peak, with more than 5,000 firefighters from around the state, including the Triangle, and as far away as Arizona and Alaska working to contain them.
Duncan said that about 500 firefighters remain. They are focused on seeding fire lines made by bulldozers and stabilizing water run-off.
A Franklin County man was arrested on federal arson charges Nov. 30 in connection with two fires in Macon County, but Duncan said there are other arsonists who have not been caught yet. Gov. Pat McCrory has announced that the state is offering a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for setting wildfires.
Many of the firefighters that were in Western North Carolina have been sent to fight fires that ravaged Gatlinburg, Tenn., Duncan said.
Fourteen people were killed in last week’s Tennessee fires and 134 were injured, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel. The fires destroyed more than 1,600 structures, including homes, cabins and churches in Sevier County.
Tim Phelps, forestry communications and outreach unit leader for Tennessee’s Department of Agriculture, said that as of Sunday night, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that reached Gatlinburg was less than 50 percent contained and had affected 17,006 acres. He said 645 personnel are currently fighting the flames there.
“We are actively working to shore up the other 68 percent,” he said. “With the weather that we’ve been having, we’re feeling very confident.”
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629