Warm, windy weather sparks wildfires

Posted February 14, 2011 12:29 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2011 11:34 a.m. EST

Fire crews battled wildfires in Harnett, Wake and Orange counties on Feb. 14, 2011.

— Firefighters battled brush fires near Fuquay-Varina and in Orange County Monday after a warm, windy day whipped up the fire risk across the state.

Brian Haines, spokesman for the North Carolina Forestry Department, said more than 120 fires burned more than 470 acres statewide. Most of them were in the Piedmont area, where there were around 70 fires.

In Orange County, authorities closed Interstate 40 West near N.C. Highway 86 when smoke from a wildfire limited visibility for evening commuters. Through traffic headed west was being detoured off I-40 at Exit 270 (U.S. Highways 15/501 North) to Interstate 85. The lanes were reopened at about 6:30 p.m., but traffic was backed up for miles until after 7 p.m.

Padric Nye lives in the area. He was one of the first people on the scene trying to battle the blaze.

"The heat was really intense on your face," he said.

The fire moved through a wooded area toward his house. He ran a water hose as far as he could to beat it back.

"We saw this line of fire going across," he said. "We saw smoke coming off and we could smell it."

The fire moved into the woods, where dry leaves fueled it. Fire trucks had a difficult time maneuvering through the trees and the wind caused the flames to spread quickly.

"(The wind) carries the fire pretty quickly and that is what we are seeing in fires across the state," Haines said.

Authorities also fought a brush fire in Fuquay-Varina.

Susan Weiss, public information officer for the town of Fuquay-Varina, said the fire spread across about 5 acres along Angier Road but did not threaten any homes. No one was injured. The fire started just after 3 p.m. and was under control by 5:30 p.m., Weiss said.

The most common cause of wildfires in North Carolina is debris burning, authorities said.

The afternoon sun on Valentine's Day warmed more than just hearts. The highest hourly temperature recorded at Raleigh-Durham International Airport was 72 degrees, almost 20 degrees above the normal for this date.

Drought conditions exist over almost half the state, according to the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council, due to a lack of precipitation in recent months. Despite snow over the past few months, the Triangle, for example, is 2.86 inches below rainfall for the year.

The Triangle will see spring-like sunshine throughout the week, with another chance for 70s coming by Friday, said WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner, but there is no rain in the forecast.