State News

Moisture dampens Bladen County wildfire, FEMA pledges help

Posted July 5, 2011 6:48 a.m. EDT
Updated July 5, 2011 9:22 p.m. EDT

— Moist weather conditions in Bladen County have allowed firefighters to regain some control over a wildfire that jumped its containment lines Sunday and grew to more than 5,200 acres, a state Forest Service spokesman said Tuesday.

Ten homes were evacuated Sunday after a planned burnout operation to fight the fire by eliminating combustible materials failed and the flames crossed their containment lines. Officials went door-to-door to Monday evening to evacuate homes near the Cumberland-Bladen county line, but many people decided not to leave. 

On Tuesday night, all evacuations were lifted. 

Rainfall overnight dampened the fire's fuel and firefighters said the wildfire is now "creeping and smoldering" rather than blazing. Barring a major rain event, crews said the fire could smolder for weeks.

"Things are looking a lot better today," said Chris Meggs, fire information officer for the Forest Service. "(Moisture) has slowed the fire down. It has not put it out, but it has given us some good conditions to get in today and get a whole lot more work done."

The landscape in the area, called Carolina Bay, is a mix of waxy-leafed plants and organic soil called peat. Meggs said peat burns more easily than typical soil, which is why the fire broke from its containment.

The fire, which was sparked by a lightning strike June 20, is estimated to be 50 percent contained. Nearly 80 firefighters, some from as far as Montana, have assisted in fighting the fire, which has cost more than $600,000. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pledged to help foot the bill.

A cabin and two outbuildings were lost in the fire Monday, as well as a four-wheeler and a specialized tractor that is used to fight wildfires. Three homes in the Live Oaks community of Cumberland County were destroyed by the blaze last month.

Roads that were closed Monday, including Turnbull Road in Cumberland County, reopened Tuesday.

Code red air quality alerts were in effect for Cumberland, Harnett and Sampson counties until 3:15 p.m. Wednesday due to fine particles in the air from debris burning in the wildfire. Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Johnston, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake counties were under an air quality alert for sensitive groups, such as children and the elderly.