Local News

Mandatory evacuation ordered for homes near wildfire

Posted June 4, 2008 11:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2008 12:24 a.m. EDT

— Officials in Washington County have issued a mandatory evacuation order to homeowners near a large wildfire in eastern North Carolina's Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

The lightning-fired blaze – 15 miles northwest of Fairfield – has burned up to 10,000 acres in Hyde and Washington counties.

Firefighters have started to establish new containment lines to the north and east of the blaze, hoping that access roads will help corner the fire. The fire jumped previous lines Tuesday night and threatened the area south of Lake Phelps on Wednesday.

“When the fire went through, it killed a lot of the green vegetation, and once it starts to shed and fall on the ground, then it has the possibility to reignite again,” state Division of Forest Services public information officer Ned Berg said.

The organic soil is another problem for the nearly 100 firefighters battling the blaze.

“Once the organic soil burns, the roots of the trees will actually fall over,” Berg said.

Emergency workers said they had evacuated a community around Lake Phelps, telling 39 homeowners to leave.

“It happened very fast. We all had to get out of here. The sheriff said we had 10 minutes,” evacuee Claudia Dooley said.

Tony Spencer, Hyde County Emergency Management coordinator, said Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties are all under a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, people who live near the blaze were cautioned to avoid breathing smoke.

"People and their pets living in the immediate vicinity of the fire, or downwind of the smoke, should stay inside as much as possible," said Wesley Smith, Hyde County's health director.

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge includes 110,106 acres in the three counties.

Spencer said that unless there's a very large rainfall, the fire and smoke may last for two months, adding that ash from the fire has been reported 75 miles away.

Officials said lightning started the blaze Sunday.