Fires Flare Up After Charring More than 9,000 Acres
Posted February 11, 2008 5:20 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2008 9:36 p.m. EST
Halifax, N.C. — On the morning after gusty winds whipped up fires in all of North Carolina's 100 counties, orange skies gave way to a smoky haze, but the damage to thousands of acres was clear.
The state Division of Forest Resources said 302 fires charred 9,387 acres across the state during the last 36 hours. More than a third of the fires popped up in Camden, Granville, Halifax and Robeson counties.
Crews continued to fight 32 fires in Robeson County, many near St. Pauls, Monday afternoon, and it appeared it would be a second long night for firefighters. One fire had already consumed 100 acres and threatened a number of homes.
In Franklin County, the forest service was working to build lines to contain an active fire northwest of Franklinton. Many people were forced to evacuate their homes and go to a shelter in a middle school.
A brush fire near Kitrell rekindled early Monday after firefighters had contained it. Dozens were forced from their homes into two shelters, but authorities later allowed them to return home.
Fires flared up again Monday evening in Halifax County, which alone accounted for more than a third of the fire-related damage in the state.
Deputies said a fire was burning just outside the town of Halifax, along the Roanoke River. Sky 5 footage showed a fire burning about 3 miles from Enfield and heavy smoke floating over the county Monday afternoon.
Early Monday, firefighters battled eight blazes in Halifax County, but all of those were contained, officials said.
Thirty-six fires burned more than 3,000 acres and forced the evacuation of at least 100 homes across the county on Sunday, officials said. The fires damaged two homes and numerous sheds and vehicles.
Larry Lynch recounted evacuating, along with his wife, their four children, his grandfather, Willie, and three of their six dogs.
"There was so much smoke you couldn't see," said Willie Lynch, who lives next door to his grandson. "Yeah, I thought for sure it was going to get the house and thought it might get me, too, before I got away from there."
"We just grabbed our kids' clothes, because we pretty much figured the whole house would be gone," Larry Lynch said. "Then we got out fast as we could."
The Lynch family counted their losses: a shed, an all-terrain vehicle and a riding mower. The vinyl siding was burned off part of Larry Lynch's house, but his grandfather's was untouched.
And the three dogs left behind? "We had three that we couldn't get to in time enough, because the fire had got up so quick. And, luckily, the firefighters, they turned them loose, and they saved them," Larry Lynch said.
"The Lord blessed me. Yeah, he did," Willie Lynch said.
A production crew for the Carolina Hurricanes experienced life on the front lines of a fire. They came across a fire in Franklinton on their way back from New Jersey on Sunday.
They left their cameras, picked up fire hoses and helped volunteer firefighters fight the flames.
“The wind was so bad out there. The fire kept getting re-stoked,” said Pete Soto with Canes Vision. “They would flare back up. One flared up by my foot. It was intense. Then you start realizing, ‘What am I in the middle of here?’ You don’t realize it, but at the same time, you’re just glad to help out.”
Soto's face was still covered with soot when he talked with WRAL later. He says it took the crew about 20 minutes to douse the flames. Their quick action helped save a family's house.
One Moore County family managed to escape a spreading brush fire but lost their home and belongings to it. Their home on Heritage Way was destroyed, officials said.
In Harnett County, fire destroyed a home at 1156 Heritage Way, in Cameron, but there were no injuries. The Red Cross helped the displaced family find shelter.
By Monday morning, firefighters had extinguished a number of fires that shut down major roads.
Flames charred the median and leaped over Interstate 85 in Granville County, where more than 20 other fires started. Crews shut down I-85 between exits 206 and 208 for several hours when smoke reduced visibility to zero. Traffic was rerouted onto U.S. Highway 158.
A fire had also spread near the Carolina Country Club inside the Beltline in Raleigh. The club and golf course, near the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Oberlin Road, were not damaged.
Brush fires had popped up on Edwards and Riddle roads in Lee County and U.S. Highway 1 north of Franklinton, before the Vance County line. Fire destroyed two homes, one of which was vacant.
A fire in Rocky Mount had prompted Highway Patrol troopers to close U.S. Highway 64 Bypass in both directions between Raleigh Street and Kingsboro Road due to poor visibility. Traffic was detoured onto U.S. 64 Alternate for two hours.
About 60 firefighters from seven departments had tackled a large woods fire that covered 50 acres, around Polenta and Matthews roads in Clayton. A plow and helicopters from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources joined the effort.
Flames destroyed two barns and threatened 20 homes, but no one was injured, although some firefighters had to be re-hydrated.
Worshipers evacuated Willow Spring Free Will Baptist Church around 12:45 p.m., but the church – which burned to the ground in the late 1940s – was spared.
In Kittrell, north of Louisburg, a fire at the intersection of West Dyking and Sims Bridge roads had forced the evacuation of dozens of residents Sunday. Two shelters were set up, and residents returned home throughout Monday once the fire was extinguished.
Winds gusting to 60 mph blew trees onto power lines throughout Sunday. At one point, more than 5,000 Progress Energy customers lost power in the area, and Duke Energy reported more than 19,000 outages across the state. Wake Electric reported some 1,115 power outages, mostly in Franklinton, Oxford, Kittrell and Royal.
All of the state was under a "red flag" warning Sunday, prohibiting outdoor burning. The warning stemmed from the passage of a strong cold front that whipped up the strong winds.