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Officials: NC wildfire may double in size, close highways to Outer Banks

An eastern North Carolina wildfire has the potential to double in size to more than 50,000 acres and force the closure of several major roads, officials said.

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FAIRFIELD, N.C. — A wildfire in eastern North Carolina has jumped containment lines and could double in size to more than 50,000 acres, a state Division of Forest Resources spokesman said Thursday.

Smoke from the blaze also could force authorities to close highways connecting the Triangle and the Outer Banks if winds shift, they said.

Bill Swartley of the Division of Forest Resources said Thursday night that firefighters had hoped to contain the fire at an access road in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Instead, he said, firefighters were preparing to contain the fire further east at N.C. Highway 94, meaning the blaze will have room to double in size and could threaten more homes.

If winds come out of the east to carry smoke, the Department of Transportation could be forced to close U.S. Highway 64, U.S. 264, N.C. 99, N.C. 94, N.C. 45 and N.C. 32 because of visibility problems, Washington County Manager David Peoples said.

"The decision to close roads will depend on the shifting winds," Peoples added.

WRAL meteorologist Kim Deaner said winds in the area are expected to vary overnight. There also is a 20 percent chance of rain for Friday.

Peoples said the county has received reports of a smoke cloud being seen on the Outer Banks and as far north as Virginia Beach, Peoples said.

The fire had scarred nearly 30,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 70 homes by Thursday, Swartley said. Some residents have sought refuge at a nearby fire station.

Early Thursday, officials told Rani Beasley that it was too dangerous to stay in her Hyde County home.

"I was terrified, but you go into overdrive," Beasley said.

“We are going to contain this fire. The question is where we’re going to contain it,” Swartley said.

About half the fire was burning on the refuge and about half was on private land in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. A burning ban was issued at 8 p.m. Thursday for those three counties, Peoples said.

Lightning started the fire Sunday at the wildlife refuge, and it gradually spread during the week because of dry conditions and flammable peat soil.

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

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.

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

No one has been hurt and no homes have burned.

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Minnie Bridgers, Web Editor

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