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Wildfire threat exacerbated by heat, high winds

High winds and dry air have drastically increased the chances of wildfires, and forest service officials strongly encouraged people not to burn anything outside through Monday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The largest of nearly 300 wildfires sparked in eastern North Carolina on Saturday kept burning Sunday, and state forest service officials warned that the potential for fast-moving flames will stay until Tuesday.

About 80 firefighters continued to battle the flames in Warren County, as the wild fire that has scorched more than 1,600 acres of mostly farm land and forest burned steadily Sunday.

Crews said they have the fire 80 percent contained and did not expect any home evacuations, but noted that the fire's spread can be unpredictable.

At one point, the flames jumped the fire-break and spread rapidly into a wooded are off Limer Town Road.

"Sometimes with the wind blowing and it's coming 6 to 8-foot tall, it goes right over the fire-break," said Fire Chief Joey Andrews.

One house and two outbuildings have been damaged in the blaze, authorities said. 

Crews from the North Carolina Forest Service carved lines in the earth to try to contain the fire and lit backfires to kill any dried fuel from the ground. 

Families were allowed to return to more than six dozen homes around Afton that were evacuated overnight Saturday. Shocco Springs, Park Town and Limer Town roads remained closed.

Joe Champion, who lives in the Afton area, said he could see the fire from his yard.

"You can see the glow in the back of the woods where it is burning," he said.

He said he was nervous about the fire creeping closer to his house.

"I got my water hose hooked up," Champion said. "There is nothing you can do, this is mother nature."

About a dozen forest service workers assisted the Warrenton fire department, Andrews said. Crews hoped to have the fire contained by late Sunday.

"It's been real difficult," Andrews said. "It ain't a good feeling when you get fire that's 10, 12 feet above your head in the trees. It can be very scary."

Authorities believe the fire started early Saturday afternoon when a car being towed along Park Town Road threw off a spark. At one point, it stretched for more than five miles along U.S. Highway 401.

Wake County

Homeowners in the Wakefield Plantation subdivision in north Raleigh were still reeling Sunday from brush fires that got dangerously close to homes in the area. Fire crews were able to keep the flames at bay, and only three homes reported minor exterior damage.

Angelo Belardo was at the mall with his family when he got a call from his neighbor that his backyard was on fire.

"We just dropped everything and ran," Belardo said. "We figured everything was getting wiped out. He said it was like a forest fire."

Firefighters said a discarded cigarette from a car was likely the cause of the blaze, which singed 25 acres in the golf course community.

"It was very quick," Belardo said. "They [saw] it coming up the hill and it just rolled down ... rolled down and engulfed everything."

Fires kindled across North Carolina

Authorities said that a few fires in other counties reignited or started up Sunday.

A fire in Jude's Gap near Chimney Rock that was burning for more than a week was contained as of Sunday night. The fire burned 1,474 acres.

Multiple grass fires were reported along Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 1 in the Raleigh and Cary areas, dispatchers said.

A 200-acre fire seven miles west of Rowland in Robeson County and a 125-acre fire near the Kipling community in Harnett County still burned but had been contained, forest service officials said. There was also a small fire near Rowland.

In Johnston County, crews battled three minor brush fires Sunday afternoon, putting one out along Aquilla Road, and dousing flames that rekindled along Interstate 95. That fire continued to burn, but crews had it under control, preventing it from spreading, authorities said.

Firefighters kept an eye on a 500-acre fire in Pender County that forced the evacuation of 25 homes in the Hoover Road area Saturday.

On Saturday, high winds and dry air stirred up 288 fires that burned nearly 3,000 acres across North Carolina.

Instead of burning debris outdoors, people should compost their brush piles or leave them until the state receives a soaking rainfall, forest service officials said.

Burn bans were in effect in Pender and Brunswick counties.


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