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Gusty Winds Fan Brush Fires

Winds gusting up to 60 mph in some areas toppled trees and power lines and fanned brush fires across North Carolina Sunday.

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Winds gusting up to 60 mph in some areas toppled trees and power lines and fanned brush fires across North Carolina Sunday.

Firefighters from seven departments tackled a large woods fire around the 3700 block of Polenta Road, near Matthews Road in Clayton.

About 60 firefighters worked to put out the estimated 50 acres that were on fire. Two barns were destroyed and 20 homes were threatened.

Willow Spring Free Will Baptist was evacuated at about 12:45 p.m., as the fire moved closer to the structure.

“I looked down and saw all that smoke and said, 'Lord, take care of us,’” church member Rosa Wright said. "Then the fireman came in the church and told the pastor to get everybody out."

The church burned to the ground in the late 1940s.

"I asked the Lord, 'Lord please don't let it happen again,’” church member Bettie Saunders Davis said.

The fire never did reach the church, but WRAL talked with someone who lost a barn and storage shed to the flames.

It was the "most fire trucks I (had) ever seen come through this yard,” Willie Clark said.

Clark lost the barn his horse, Tootsie, called home.

"I'm gonna have to keep her tied up all night long,” he said.

A plow and helicopters from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources also battled the brush fires.

About 20 Johntson County homes were endangered, however, none were damaged.

Cleveland Fire Chief Chris Ellington said no injuries were reported, but that firefighters were having their vital signs checked by emergency medical personnel, who made sure they also rehydrated.

The state Highway Patrol reported a brush fire reduced visibility to zero on Interstate 85 between exits 206 and 208 at the Vance-Granville county line. A patrol dispatcher said traffic was rerouted to U.S. 158 into Granville County.

In Harnett County, multiple brush fires burned in Cameron. A home at 1156 Heritage Way was destroyed by fire. There were no injuries. The Red Cross helped the displaced family find shelter.

In Kittrell, north of Louisburg, at the intersection of West Dyking Road and Sims Bridge Road, firefighters battled a brush fire. The blaze was contained by 10:30 p.m. Dozens of residents were evacuated earlier from their homes, as two shelters were set up.

Eighteen people remained at Cedar Creek Middle School Sunday night. All evacuees at the Senior Center in Louisburg had returned home.

Brush fires were also reported on Edwards and Riddle roads in Lee County and Highway 1 north of Franklinton, before the Vance County line. Two homes were destroyed by fire. One of the structures was vacant.

In Halifax County, at least 16 brush fires forced residents to be evacuated from 28 homes along Macon Road in Hollister, officials said. Several roads were closed by the Department of Transportation due to heavy smoke and reduced visibility. Evacuees were sent to Hollister Elementary School. As of 11:20 p.m. all fires in the county were contained. No homes were damaged by fire.

Rocky Mount firefighters battled a brush fire Sunday afternoon near Meadowbrook Road. At about 3 p.m., the Highway Patrol closed US 64 Bypass in both directions between Raleigh Street and Kingsboro Road due to smoke causing poor visibility for motorists. Traffic was detoured onto US 64 Alternate for two hours.

All of the state was under a red flag warning Sunday, meaning outdoor burning was prohibited. The warning stems from the passage of a strong cold front that whipped up the strong winds.

Shardul Ravel with the North Carolina Forestry Service said 112 fires, spanning some 1,000 acres, were contained across the state. Roughly 80 fires, spanning 2,000 acres, remained uncontained at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

High winds blowing trees into power lines left some 5,335 customers without power in the northern region of the state – Raleigh to the Virginia state line – according to a 10:15 p.m. report by Progress Energy.

Wake Electric reported some 1,115 power outages, mostly in Franklinton, Oxford, Kittrell and Royal. Duke Energy reported 19,138 outages Sunday night.

The wind also caused problems for planes trying to land at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Winds caused planes to rock back and forth Sunday as they approached the runway. In some cases, pilots would scrap the landing and try again, officials said. At least two flights were canceled and another flight was diverted to a different city.

The Forestry Service said every county in the state reported at least one brush fire Sunday.

The state Division of Forest Resources on Friday warned people to avoid debris burning this weekend due to the potential of fire. Careless burning of debris accounts for more than 40 percent of the wildfires in North Carolina, more than any other cause, state officials said.