NC wildfires scorch thousands of acres
Posted February 19, 2011 2:37 p.m. EST
Updated February 20, 2011 8:48 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Fires popped up in every county in North Carolina's Piedmont region Saturday, as forecasters warned that dry air and high winds made conditions ripe for fast-spreading flames.
State Forest Service spokesman Brian Haines said 183 fires were contained for about 500 acres, but that 39 fires stretching more than 4,000 acres were still not contained as of 8 p.m.
Lee Burwell, also with the state Forest Service, said that all 44 counties in the region he serves have at least one brush fire.
"There are definitely more fires than we can handle at this point," Burwell said Saturday afternoon.
Haines said there was no statewide burn ban in effect, but that burning was highly discouraged in dry, windy conditions.
Burn bans were in effect in Pender and Brunswick counties.
Warren County has the largest fire in the state, which stretches for five miles along N.C. Highway 401, Haines said. More than 1,000 acres were burned as of 8 p.m.
About 15 fire departments were actively involved in battling the blaze, and crews saved two buildings from the woods fire at Shocco Springs and Limertown roads.
Warren County authorities were working to evacuate all the homes in the Park Town area around 4 p.m. because some of the houses were in danger of catching fire.
The flames scorched a graveyard in Afton, south of Warrenton.
Authorities said the fire was caused by a junk car that was being towed along Park Town Road. Sparks from the car ignited grass alongside the road.
A brush fire broke out near Ray Road and Rainey Drive in Harnett County, destroying one home and causing extensive damage to another, emergency dispatch officials said.
Maxine Tibbets owns one of the damaged homes, but does not live there. She said one of the her tenants narrowly escaped when the house caught fire.
"(She) and her baby were still in the house and did not even realize that the house was on fire," Tibbets said. "Thank God that my other renter and her boyfriend came home... He realized that the house was on fire and was able to get her out with the baby."
A brush fire that started on the side of the road near Wakefield Plantation Golf Course in north Raleigh Saturday afternoon spread into a neighboring subdivision, shutting down roads as firefighters battled the blaze.
Windy weather and dry conditions caused the fire to quickly scorch 25 acres, from the gold course to the back side of the Wakefield Plantation subdivision. Some parts of the course were completely charred, but only three homes sustained minor, exterior damage, said Falls Fire Chief Chris Wilson.
The fire was extinguished about 5 p.m.
A grass fire in Wendell damaged three homes in the Edgemont community. No one was injured.
Fires burning since last Saturday have scorched 1,474 acres in Jude's Gap near Chimney Rock. Authorities said the wildfires were more than 95 percent contained and that they expected full containment by Monday evening. About $316,000 in damage has been done in the area. Nearly 150 firefighters are battling the blaze.
A fire stretching 200 acres started around noon Saturday in the northwest part of Holly Shelter. Areas of Hoover Road near Hampstead were evacuated as a precaution.
Multiple WRAL viewers reported a large fire along U.S. Highway 264 in Wilson.
Durham firefighters responded to a brush fire that threatened homes around the Duke Homestead Historic Site.
A building was impacted by a two-acre fire in Youngsville, Haines said. A large brush fire affected several abandoned homes and old cars on Rainbow Lane in Roseboro, according to the Sampson County Sheriff's Office. A brush fire also caught a vehicle on fire along Bart Road, near Middlesex, Nash County emergency officials said.
Firefighters also battled brush and grass fires on Spirit Hill Drive in Orange County, Bailey Church School Road in Chatham County and in Edgecombe and Hoke counties.
State forestry officials issued a red flag warning for Saturday, cautioning people against burning outdoors because of high winds and dry air. People should compost their brush piles or leave them until the state receives a soaking rainfall.
Parts of the state had sustained winds of up to 35 mph Saturday. More than 90 percent of North Carolina is considered abnormally dry, and an area stretching from Charlotte to Raleigh is in severe drought.