State News

Wildfires, drought prompt emergency, burn ban in eastern NC

Posted June 25, 2011 11:36 a.m. EDT
Updated June 25, 2011 7:10 p.m. EDT

— A severe drought and wildfires that have burned more than 70,000 acres prompted state authorities to declare an emergency and ban open burning in eastern and coastal counties Saturday.

Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 29 counties. The order allows to the state seek federal assistance and help from other states to fight the fires.

"I want to assure residents of North Carolina that the state Division of Forest Resources and its partnering agencies are working hard to contain the fires in eastern North Carolina," Perdue said in a statement. "They will continue to focus on the top priorities of protecting lives and property nearest the fires."

She said that the state Forest Service Incident Management Team is working with more than 300 federal, local and volunteer fire departments.

The emergency declaration and burn ban include Bladen, Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wayne and Wilson counties, among others.

The emergency declaration also includes Harnett and Lenior counties, which are not under the burn ban.

Starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, all burning is prohibited if it is 100 feet or more from a home. That includes burning leaves, branches and other plant material. State law always forbids burning trash, lumber, tires, newspapers and plastics.

Local law enforcement, county fire marshals and state forest officials will enforce the ban.

A wildfire in the Alligator River Nature Preserve in Dare County has covered 70 square miles, or nearly 50,000 acres.

Firefighters on Saturday had contained about 15 percent of a fire that began with a lightning strike in the Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County. That blaze has scorched more than 21,000 acres so far.

A separate fire near Atkinson in western Pender County has burned about 60 acres so far.

In Bladen County, a planned burnout around a smaller but destructive fire didn't work as plan. State forestry spokesman Chris Meggs said firefighters had planned to burn about 2,500 acres around the blaze to deprive it of fuel.

Instead, crews were working to pump water directly onto the center of the fire. It is about 25 percent contained.

That fire, which started in the Live Oak community,  has scorched more than 1,300 acres, destroyed three homes and 10 outbuildings, and forced 100 people from their homes.

Forest Service spokesman Bruce MacDonald said scattered thunderstorms have helped extinguish some flames, but accompanying higher winds have pushed fires in unexpected directions.

Severe drought conditions persisted in 35 eastern and coastal counties as of Tuesday.