Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
With a solid week and a half of rain, Macon County Commission Chair Kevin Corbin, in his last act as a county commissioner before his term ended, signed a resolution to lift the State of Emergency that was issued due to unusual drought conditions and the devastating wildfires that occurred last month throughout the region.
“My last official act as chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners was to terminate the State of Emergency in Macon County,” said Corbin. “It is a blessing to the see the rain that has fallen on the region over the last week. Now the next step for our county is working toward cleaning up the devastation caused by the fires and continuing to move forward as a community.”
In addition to the State of Emergency being lifted in Macon County, Emergency Services Director Warren Cabe also lifted the burn ban, which allows residence to burn within 100 feet of their homes. The town of Franklin, which issued a burn ban for town residents, lifted the ban on Monday night during the monthly meeting of the Board of Aldermen. As of Tuesday, the state’s burning ban was also lifted.
The two fires that have been impacting Macon County recently, the Camp Branch Fire in Otto and the Rock Mountain Fire that crossed from Georgia into North Carolina are both moving toward 100 percent containment. Due to the rain, containment efforts on both fires have been on hold until conditions allow for a safe return to the fire lines. Fire crews will continue to mop up and secure containment lines, moving to 100 percent containment. The Camp Branch Fire, which burned to 3,422 acres is at 85 percent containment and the Rock Mountain, which reached 24,725 acres is at 95 percent containment. As trees are downed by strong winds and rain, firefighters will clear downed trees off roads, such as Wayah Road (SR 1310), Forest Road 711 and Locust Tree Branch Road. Firefighters remain positioned to respond to any new fire starts.
The National Forests in North Carolina assembled a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment team the end of November 2016, to analyze post-fire condition of burned watersheds and to plan emergency stabilization treatments for the Western North Carolina wildfires.
The BAER team is compiling reports that will identify immediate and emergency actions to address post-fire risks to people, property, and cultural and natural resources. Wildfire can increase the risk of flooding, erosion, and sedimentation. Other potential hazards include debris flow, reduced water quality, invasive plants, or falling trees and rocks. The BAER team report will contain an assessment of watershed pre- and post-fire response, areas of concern, values-at-risk, and recommended short-term emergency stabilization treatments.
For updated information about the BAER team, go to the blog at http://wncbaer.blogspot.com/
Mann appears in court; waves right to detention hearing
On Monday, December 5, Keith Eugene Mann, who was arrested last Tuesday, appeared in federal court for a detention hearing. Mann was arrested last week and charged with one count of destroying real property of the United States by means of fire. The charge carries a mandatory penalty of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Mann waived his right to a detention hearing and the court granted an indefinite continuance of the hearing for cause. Mann was remanded to the custody of the Attorney General for confinement in a corrections facility separate, to the extent practicable, from persons awaiting or serving sentences or being held in custody pending appeal.
After an interview with Special Agents with the U.S. Forest Service, Mann confessed to starting two small wildfires in Macon County which resulted in 16 acres of damage. According to authorities, Mann said that after his wife recently left him, he didn’t think he had anything to live for and wanted to “see something burn.”
Mann was taken into custody last Tuesday night and had his first court appearance in front of U.S. magistrate Judge Dennie Howell last Wednesday. Mann will remain in custody pending trial.