State News

Officials worry winds may fan NC wildfire

A wildfire that has burned more than 30,000 acres and forced the evacuation of dozens of eastern North Carolina homes may grow more active.

Posted Updated

COLUMBIA, N.C. — Firefighters are worried that stronger winds Sunday may fan a wildfire that has already burned more than 31,000 acres of dry land in a national wildlife refuge area, a forestry official said.

Two days of light winds slowed the spread of the blaze and helped firefighters contain about 40 percent of the fire, which has burned about 49 square miles. But a North Carolina Forest Service spokesman warned rising wind speeds could expand the blaze.

"All it needs is a stronger wind and it could become very active," Jody Brady said. "There's the potential for more intense fire behavior."

The National Weather Service said winds may increase to 7 to 10 mph through Monday night. And forecasters predicted thunderstorms Sunday night, which could bring stronger winds and lightning, which started the fire a week ago. Brady said any rains won't offset the winds.

The fire has now burned 31,423 acres in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, where Gov. Mike Easley has declared a state of emergency.

Nobody has been injured in the fire, and no buildings have been destroyed. The fire has threatened about 80 homes and businesses.

Firefighters were working Sunday to improve containment lines.

Officials have told residents in the area that smoke from the blaze could linger for months because the fire may smolder in the decayed vegetation that makes up the peat-filled soil. Firefighters are pumping water from nearby Phelps Lake to extinguish the ground fire in some areas.

The fire at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, about 70 miles south of Norfolk, Va., has already burned more acreage than the 10-year state average for all wildfires. Nearly 60,000 acres across North Carolina have now burned since January, more than the annual totals for every year since 1986.

North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose district covers northeastern North Carolina, said people need to understand that this is a significant wildfire that could destroy homes and lives.

"We're going to do everything within our power to focus the attention of the federal government on this disaster," Butterfield said.


Copyright 2023 by and the Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.