State News

Wildfires in western N.C. force families from homes

Posted November 11

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— Arson is now suspected in a rash of wildfires across western North Carolina, and state transportation officials on Friday said the wildfire near Lake Lure has forced the immediate closing of U.S. Highway 64/74A and N.C. Highway 9 in Rutherford County

At least 20 wildfires are burning in the Nantahala National Forest, along the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Dozens of families have been forced out of their homes.

A statement from the N.C. Department of Transportation on Friday said a seven-mile stretch of road between the intersection of N.C. 9 and U.S. 64/74A, which lead to the lake and Chimney Rock State Park, will be closed to all traffic except emergency personnel until officials deem the area safe for residents and visitors.

A 48-mile detour around the fire to Bat Cave is posted. Westbound traffic from Rutherford is being detoured left on N.C. 9, right on N.C. 108 in Mill Spring, right on U.S. 74 West, right on I-26 West and right on U.S. 64 in Hendersonville to Bat Cave.

“All I have is my laptop that I took to work and the clothes on my back, that’s basically it,” said homeowner Casey Ward.

Ward, his wife, their new baby and their three dogs are now staying with relatives.

“It’s become smokier as if you’re by a campfire, as if the smoke was blowing on you. That’s everywhere in our neighborhood,” Ward said.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the roaring fires on the ground and by air.

Fueling the raging fires, extremely dry conditions are turning trees into matchsticks. Ward said he's not sure when he and his family will be able to return home and what they'll find.

“I went, and I checked my home insurance to make sure it was up to date and paid for, if that’s any indication of how we’re feeling about whether our house would be safe or not,” Ward said.

Gov. Pat McCrory has now declared a state of emergency in 25 western North Carolina counties.

Several state parks are closed, including Mount Mitchell, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area and Chimney Rock state park.

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