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Robeson Wildfires Force Highway Closure

Posted August 22, 2007
Updated August 23, 2007

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— Authorities on Wednesday closed portions of U.S. Highway 74 in Robeson County because of wildfires.

Scores of wildfires have burned almost 2,700 acres across Robeson County in the past month. Authorities blame outdoor burning for many of the fires and say fires often rekindle after being extinguished because of the hot, dry weather.

"Once a fire burns, that whole area continues to smolder for days and weeks, and most of the fires do still have hot spots," said Ted Duncan, spokesman for the state Division of Forest Resources.

One fire in Flowers Swamp outside Orrum has been burning for two weeks and has charred 800 acres. Authorities said they believe lightning sparked the fire, which forced the closure of a two-mile stretch of U.S. 74 between N.C. Highway 130 and Broadridge Road because smoke reduced visibility for drivers.

“We’ve got trees back there that don’t have a single leaf on them,” incident commander Brian Elam said.

The highway was reopened Thursday morning.

Dense woods and soft ground in the swamp have challenged firefighters as they plow down trees and dig about five miles of trenches to create a fire break.

"You can't drive in it. The machine sinks when you put (bulldozers) in the woods. So, you really have to pick the area that you can go in and fight the fire down here," Elam said.

The Division of Forest Resources has sent 136 workers to the county to assist with fighting the wildfires.

The wildfires have threatened 685 homes across Robeson County in recent weeks, but none has been damaged. Some areas have been evacuated, but all residents were back in their homes Wednesday.

Authorities said they hope a statewide burning ban enacted Tuesday will help extinguish the fires.

In the meantime, they said they continue hoping for rain.

"Some of the larger areas that are going to be smoldering until we get that good heavy rain," Duncan said.

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