Safety, containment the goal in fighting western NC wildfires

Posted November 14, 2016
Updated November 15, 2016

— "We need to keep citizens away from this harm," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday in an update on the wildfires burning across the western half of the state.

More than 20 wildfires are burning in western North Carolina. McCrory spoke to the media Monday morning at the Lake Lure Incident Command Center in Lake Lure.

The largest of dozens of ongoing wildfires in the South has now burned 13,300 acres, more than a third of the vast Cohutta Wilderness area, in the north Georgia mountains just south of the Tennessee line. McCrory said North Carolina's fires were second only to those.

The first priority for residents and first responders, the governor said. No injuries or deaths have been attributed to the fires, and only a few structures have been damaged, McCrory said. He suggested that residents, even those not asked to evacuate, leave the area to avoid the breathing difficulties associated with inhaling smoke.

Bradley Dixon, a firefighter with the Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Department in Orange County, said he got his assignment and is prepared to get to work.

"Outside of Greensboro we started seeing smoke and we knew it was something significant at that point," he said.

His crew will stay at Lake Lure for 72 hours, working the front lines and relieving those who have not come off the mountain.

Captain Lee Faulk, with the Cary Fire Department, pulled a 15-hour overnight shift.

"We set up on a house and kept the fire as it came through away from the house and all the out buildings away from us, so it was a pretty long night, but we kept it off the house and everything went well," he said.

McCrory said his second priority is to contain the fires, which have spread over thousands of acres and required the work of hundreds of firefighters and dozens of trucks.

"The fact of the matter is these fires are spreading under these incredibly difficult conditions," McCrory said.

Officials say containment on the 650-acre Old Roughy fire in Graham County jumped to 60 percent Sunday from 8 percent while containment on the 7,100-acre Maple Springs fire improved slightly, from 13 percent to 15 percent.

The Tellico Fire in Macon and Swain counties is the largest blaze in the state, covering 21 square miles. It is about 33 percent contained.

Party Rock, the most serious fire in North Carolina, has burned 2,400 acres and was only 15 percent contained.

"We do believe most of these fires are man-made," McCrory said, "whether on purpose or by accident," asking the public to report any new fires they see.

Firefighters were helped by higher humidity over the weekend but warn that the fire danger will rise as drier weather returns and more leaves fall.

"We're going to do everything we can to fight them (the wildfires) within these very difficult natural conditions," McCrory said. "And these conditions are expected for a long time throughout these winter months."

Firefighting and protection have already cost North Carolina $10 million, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has committed to paying 75 percent of the emergency protective measures taken in fighting the fires.


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