State News

Dare County fire 'nowhere near out'

Posted June 21, 2011 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated June 22, 2011 5:44 p.m. EDT

— Officials from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Dare County on Tuesday discussed the tactics they are using to battle a wildfire that's burned since early May, causing many days of unhealthy air in some of the state's biggest tourist areas. 

The Pains Bay fire, ignited May 5 in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties, has sent haze as far west as the center of the state. It has burned through more than 70 square miles, according to the Division of Forest Resources.

The fire is 95 percent contained, but it is "nowhere near out," a spokesman told those who attended Tuesday's meeting in Rodanthe. 

More than 200 people and 15 vehicles are committed to fighting the fire. Firefighters are moving about 400 million gallons of water per day to saturate the ground in the wildlife refuge, but the worst part of the fire is deep in the woods, in hills of peat and soil, making flooding more difficult.

"We're encouraged by the success of getting water on the perimeter of the fire," said Roger Miller, of the Division of Forest Resources. But he estimated the area could use about 6 inches of steady rain to completely extinguish the fire.

"I'm not going to hope for a hurricane, but a tropical depression sure would be nice," he said.

At Rodanthe Campground and Water Sports, manager Mike Bigney said he's used to tourists calling to ask about hurricanes. This year, they have asked about the air quality. Some have even canceled.

"They never call back after I tell them it could be bad," he said.

And some days it is bad. On Tuesday, most of Dare County was under a Code Purple air quality warning – the highest level described by the state and one characterized by hazy, stagnant air. Residents and visitors are advised to avoid exertion outdoors during these conditions.

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality is monitoring the air quality daily. While the smoke in the air comes and goes depending on rainfall, wind patterns and other factors, authorities said it will be a long time before the skies are completely clear.

When the wind blows to the east, the sunset in the west is lit in spectacular color, refracted by the particles in the air.

Meetings were scheduled for Wednesday at the following places and times:

  • 10 a.m. at the Kern P. Pitts Center in Southern Shores
  • 2 p.m. at the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall
  • 6 p.m. at the Manns Harbor Fire Department