Published: 2009-02-11 18:39:00
Updated: 2009-03-09 17:12:52
Posted February 11, 2009 6:39 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Brush fires burned Thursday afternoon in Durham and Cumberland counties after dry, windy conditions ruled the day. Along Johnson Mill Road in Bahama, smoke billowed over the trees. Flames rushed along Legion Road in Hope Mills, but were stopped before coming close to a block of homes. Neither fire damaged any structures.
In Coats, a leaf fire spread to a home along Abattior Road, Coats Grover Fire and Rescue reported. The home was damaged but no injuries were reported.
"Mild temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds made the conditions ripe for fire danger," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.
The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings across the state through 9 p.m. because of the fire risk.
The state Division of Forest Resources discouraged people from outdoor burning and urged anyone working with open flames to be careful because fires could develop quickly and spread fast. This year, more than 615 wildfires statewide have burned more than 1,350 acres.
The air was very dry Thursday, with relative humidity less than 20 percent in many places, Fishel said. "In many areas, the wind is still gusting well past 20 mph, including Roanoke Rapids at 32," he said just after 5 p.m.
The dry conditions are reflected in the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map as well. As of Thursday, all 100 North Carolina counties are back in drought or abnormally dry conditions. Rainfall has been well below average across the state in recent weeks, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced.
A strong cold front crossed central North Carolina on Wednesday, and a drier air mass behind the front held air temperatures well above normal for this time of year.
"The highest hourly readings made it well into the 60s," Fishel said. The official high temperature for Raleigh Thursday was 69, 16 degrees above normal.
WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze forecast cooler temperatures overnight. "Since the air is dry, it cools off better than moist air," he explained.
"Friday will be breezy, but it won't be quite as windy as it was today, so at least things are trending in the right direction," Fishel said. The day will be cooler by a few degrees, with a forecast high in the mid-60s.
The real change in the weather comes this weekend.
"It will be cold and wet for Valentine's Day," Maze said, with a period or two of rain, perhaps lingering into Saturday evening, and temperatures in the 40s and 50s.
"It does look like the pattern will become colder, gradually," Fishel said. "It won't be as dramatic going down as it was going up."