Construction fire causes smoke, stalls traffic in western Wake County

Posted December 10, 2015

Multiple wrecks, corridor for multiple school buses blocked

— A mulch fire on a construction site along Green Level West Road in Apex Thursday morning blanketed the area in smoke during the morning rush hour.

Neighbors say smoke irritated eyes, throats

Nearby residents said they had smelled and seen smoke over the past few days.

"Yesterday it was a little hazy but nothing like it was today," said Barry Knapp. "You couldn’t see today."

Knapp said his wife, a teacher in Durham, didn't make it far before calling to report that she couldn't see to drive.

"I called her and I said, 'You’re going to have to wait there a little bit. Just wait for the sun to come up,'" Knapp said.

He eventually walked out to find his wife, navigating the smoky streets with his face covered in a scarf.

"I was standing at the edge of the road and there was a line of cars at the other side but I couldn’t see those cars unless I started walking into the road," Knapp said.

Firefighters struggle to reach source

Apex Fire Marshall Karl Huegerich said construction crews for Sun Con had been burning piles of ground-up stumps and debris as they cleared land for a new subdivision. Those fires smoldered for a few days, but got out of control on Thursday.

Sgt. Michael Dorsey of the state Highway Patrol said Sun Con's clearing process was all aboveboard and that no laws had been broken.

The source of the fire was so deep in the woods that fire trucks were unable to reach it. Sun Con used bulldozers to spread out the burning brush over damp ground in an effort to extinguish it.

"They are trying to turn the piles over and mash them into the ground to alleviate the problem," Huegerich said.

A damp, foggy morning contributed to the lingering heavy smoke. Huegerich said early fog and humidity kept the smoke concentrated near the ground.

"There is nothing that would likely help the situation weather-wise other than rain, and there is none of that in the forecast," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.

Six wrecks reported

While firefighters tried to put out the fire and reduce the smoke, law enforcement officers closed Green Level West Road from White Oak Church Road to Wimberly Road and parts of Roberts, Beaver Dam and Green Level Church roads from about 8 a.m. until just before 11 a.m.

The first call about the smoke came in about 7 a.m., Dorsey said.

Visibility was reduced to almost zero, causing multiple wrecks and cars to run off the road, Cary police said. Officers escorted stranded drivers out of the haze at 5 mph.

"We had some troopers respond down here," Dorsey said. "They had a hard time actually getting access to the collisions."

They estimated it would take most of the morning to clear the smoke and the accidents.

Dorsey said troopers found at least three accidents – some involving more than one vehicle. No one was injured.


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  • Alice DeCristo Dec 11, 2015
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    Please support a local teacher assistant that was involved in the 6 car pile up.

  • Bruce Allali Dec 11, 2015
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    Every home MUST have a FIREMASK. The FIREMASK is an anti-smoke mask that will allow you to breathe for 60 minutes in smoke. You can find them on AMAZON. Stay safe and smoke free !!

  • Fred Kozlof Dec 10, 2015
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    Now that's a lot of smoke. What are the consequences to the construction company for letting this get so massive?
    If a homeowner made a fire in the back yard and only disturbed one neighbor, i'll bet the police would have a few charges against them.
    Since the HP presumably had a chopper in the air to get those pictures, I'd think that hovering over the roadways would have cleared much of it in minutes.

  • Laura Wood Dec 10, 2015
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    And my poor choices? Please elaborate. Because I'm not complaining about the smoke from timber? So they can build more houses to accommodate my children and their children? It's called change. It happens all the time. I didn't say it was good nor bad but I know I don't have any power to stop it so why complain?

  • Laura Wood Dec 10, 2015
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    Actually, I grew up in Johnston County, where my closest neighbor was a good 2 miles away. That is until the cookie cutter houses started coming in. Tobacco industry took a dive so the farmers/land owners did what they had to do. They had to sell the land to provide food on the table for their children and a roof over their head. The pollution? Geez.. have you seen the SMOG in Raleigh? I rather smell trees burnt that oil but hey.. that's just me. I get it. It's an inconvenience to breathe it but they had to burn it. It got out of control but they didn't do anything illegal. We still burn trash in Johnston County. Do I feel bad about it? No. Do I worry about the pollution affecting the elderly and infants while I'm burning my trash? No. I rather burn my trash than it end of in a landfill for 20 years. But that's just me. Everyone IS entitled to have their own opinion, correct? Or did that right get yanked also?

  • Russell Chapman Dec 10, 2015
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    Not all trees can be used for lumber. Burning wood causes less pollution than the car that you drive. As a resident of Apex, I too hate the urban sprawl that has changed the landscape of the town, but simply burning timber as a means of dispoal does not warrant illegal activity. Should the contractor be more careful? Absolutely, but to the level of being illegal? Nope. Police officers were on hand and if any illegal activity were taking place, officers would of been more than happy to issue citations.

  • Allison Blanchard Dec 10, 2015
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    well said Linda!

  • Allison Blanchard Dec 10, 2015
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    sorry you sound pretty ignorant there. Did you get to grow up in Apex when there were only forests and fields? Did you have to see everything you love get torn down for cookie cutters homes with neighbors you can spit on? Forget the trees. How about he pollution and smoke that cause damage to the elderly and infants? Didn't think of that one did you? Burning massive piles of trees is a joke. Why can't you I don't know donate it or sell it for lumber or scrap? Crazy suggestions. But hey you know what you should continue to devastate everything that is natural and live in your house as your children and their children suffer from all of your poor decisions and choices.

  • Linda Donoghue Dec 10, 2015
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    Tree huggers? Hmmmm We live in what is left of the 'country' of Green Level, Wake County. Not much. I guess there might be a few trees left after all the clear cutting. I love trees, they are beautiful and clean the air.

  • Laura Wood Dec 10, 2015
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    Oh here we go..

    Hi tree huggers.