State News

Forecaster: Steady rain needed for N.C. wildfire

Posted June 10, 2008 10:06 a.m. EDT
Updated June 10, 2008 2:10 p.m. EDT

— Showers and thunderstorms expected to cross the state probably won't do much to dampen a wildfire burning in eastern North Carolina, a weather forecaster said Tuesday.

Meteorologist Phil Badgett of the National Weather Service said it will take significant rainfall to help control the fire that has burned more than 35,000 acres in and around the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

The 54-square-mile fire is the largest active fire in the United States and will need days of steady rain to be extinguished, said Hannah Thompson of the North Carolina Forest Service. Officials said the next largest wildfire was a 2,100-acre fire in New Mexico, which is about just a couple of square miles.

Much of the North Carolina fire is burning underground in organic peat soil.

"Usually the way they end up extinguishing the fire is to dam up a canal and flood the fire area," she said.

Crews continue to build containment lines around the fire in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties ahead of weather that could hasten its spread. Firefighters from various departments in Orange and Cumberland counties and from the Fayetteville Fire Department have been assisting in the effort.

Wake County Emergency Medical Services personnel provided support to firefighters and to local residents affected by the fire. Those crews were returning to Wake County on Tuesday.

Thompson said the wind accompanying a cold front was expected to gust up to 58 mph during thunderstorms, which could spread the fire that started June 2 by lightning. The fire is about 40 percent contained.

Officials said smoke already reached Virginia Beach and other areas of southeastern Virginia. They warned it could get worse in the afternoon and evening.

Flames jumped fire lines in a few areas Monday but crews were able to contain the majority of them, Thompson said

No injuries or structure damage has been reported, Thompson said. But fire trucks are standing by near populated areas to protect buildings as the fire moves northeast toward several communities.

More than 300 people, mostly firefighters, are expected to be involved in the blaze, and help was arriving from as far away as Arizona, said North Carolina Forest Service spokesman Bill Swartley. The cost to the state of North Carolina alone of fighting the fire now stands at $1.1 million.