Local News

Smoke inhibits fire-fighting efforts in eastern N.C.

Posted June 6, 2008
Updated June 7, 2008

— A wildfire in eastern North Carolina grew to nearly 30,000 acres Friday and produced smoke that made battling the blaze more difficult.

Thick clouds of smoke and flames jumping from tree to tree in the woods of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge kept firefighters on the ground at a distance. From the air, tanker airplanes and helicopters dropped water on the blaze with limited success.

"It's really smoky, kind of hard to see…low visibility," volunteeer fireman Josh Clayton said.

The state Division of Air Quality reported very high levels of particle pollution due to the smoke at monitoring stations in Martin County. The smoke in the air can be dangerous, especially to those with heart disease and respiratory ailments, and to the elderly, pregnant or young children.

Residents living downwind of the fire were urged to stay indoors to limit their smoke exposure.

Hyde County resident James Boyd said he was in the Beaufort County area Thursday night and found it hard to see or breathe due to the smoke.

Smoke from the fire could be seen and smelled for hundreds of miles, spreading as far north as Richmond, Va.

"You can't really see it. You can smell it," said Sonia Mark, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, Va., more than 80 miles away.

North Carolina Forest Service spokesman Bill Swartley noted that travelers on U.S. highways 64 and 264 and N.C. highways 45, 94 and 99 could expect heavy smoke and traffic delays throughout the area.

Swartley said he did not expect those roads to be closed.

The state Department of Transportation positioned message boards along major routes in the fire zone to inform motorists of dense smoke, road closures and detour routes.

A total of 29,970 acres – almost 50 square miles – have been burned by the fire that started with a lightning strike Sunday in Pocosin Lakes Refuge. Half of the fire was burning on the refuge and half was on private land in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, where a burn ban took effect Thursday night.

The fire was about 30 percent contained Friday.

Swartley said firefighters hoped to contain the fire at N.C. Highway 94.

No damage to homes has been reported. About 50 homes were evacuated. The Red Cross set up shelters at the Ponzer and Belhaven fire departments.

“We are going to contain this fire. The question is where we’re going to contain it,” Swartley said.

Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency Friday for the counties of Hyde, Tyrell and Washington, asking all local and state agencies to contribute to the firefighting effort.

The governor's office said 200 firefighters were battling the blaze, along with air support from tanker planes and helicopters.

The weather forecast does not offer any relief. Extreme heat is predicted for the next four days and no significant rainfall is on the horizon, the weather service said. Residents were warned to be aware of flying embers and falling ash which could ignite areas outside the main fire.

The Forest Service held a community meeting Friday at the Ponzer firehouse and planned another one Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Vernon James Center in Roper.


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  • blueice Jun 6, 2008

    I feel sorry for everyone that is involved with losing their homes. Think about all the animals that live in that area. I guess they will start heading this way as well trying to find a new home. I have been that way many a times and have seen black bears out in fields. May everyone that is trying to control this be safe and not get hurt.

  • WHEEL Jun 6, 2008

    "We will contain it somewhere" Perhaps the Mississippi river. Why don't you veto wild fires Easley ?

  • AshleyandJoeCarson Jun 6, 2008

    I live in Rocky Mount and I as well went outside about midnight and thought that something was on fire and so I walked around my apartment complex and walked down the road a bit trying to figure out what was going on and then got on WRAL.com and saw that we were under a smoke advisory from this fire.. and we were advised to stay in our homes to protect us from smoke inhalation.. That is scary because we are so FAR away from the coast.. I cant imagine what it is like at the coast if it was that bad here.. I pray for the firemen and their families and all the people affected by this tragedy!

  • momofthreeinFV Jun 6, 2008

    I spoke to my parents this morning and they said that the smoke was really bad and driving was a mess.

  • briathar626 Jun 6, 2008

    mrtwinturbo and oldb77--

    That was the result of a poorly formed sentence by the writer--not the thoughts of the quoted. His point was they were not able to stop it along the access road, and there are being forced back to the highway. Because of this, the fire will have the ability to double in size and it will put homes in danger.

    Trust me, no one down there wants to allow any homes to be in the way. My brother's home borders the refuge, but thankfully he lives on the side that has not been threatened so far. However, he and his wife have a bag packed and in the trunk in case the winds shift. He's a volunteer firefighter as well, so he'll be out there fighting to save his home plus the homes of his neighbors. Being a firefighter is hard enough--doing it when your own home is on the line is amazing.

    Keep all of those battling the fire in your thoughts. It's 100 degrees today, they are wearing heavy turnout gear, and they are battling an inferno. They deserve nothing but respe

  • Southern Fried Yankee Jun 6, 2008

    One must wonder just how much the soot, ash, smoke, and heat are going to ad to global warming......No wait, sorry...I lost my head nature doesn't add to global warming only man does....


  • wdkanesfan Jun 6, 2008

    What they were trying to say was...they weren't able to stop the fire where they wanted, and they were going to try and stop it at Hwy 94. This is going to give the fire more room to grow, possibly doubling in size.

  • aintbackingdwn Jun 6, 2008

    The houses will be the fire breaks. We'll protect those darn little birds on the Outer Banks but to heck with your house.

  • 4DukeTillDeath Jun 6, 2008

    "Bill Swartley of the Division of Forest Resources said that firefighters hoped to contain the fire at N.C. Highway 94, giving the blaze room to double in size and putting more homes in its path.


    I was about to post the same thing. That made no sense at all.

  • Hip-Shot Jun 6, 2008

    I live on the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount and went for a powerwalk at midnight through the neighborhood. The smoke was so thick that I had trouble completing my exercise. This morning I'm finding I have a dry cough, like a smokers cough.