Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

With no rain in the forecast and drought conditions worsening, fires continue to grow across Western North Carolina with new concerns and fires popping up seemingly every day. In the Nantahala National Forest more than 10,000 acres of forest have ignited over the last two weeks, prompting hundreds of firefighters across the country and members of the National Guard to be called on for help.

As of Wednesday, 611 firefighters from 16 states from North Carolina to Alaska, are fighting 19 wildfires to protect people, structures, and infrastructure. Strong winds anticipated throughout the remainder of the week are expected to create “very active fire behavior” according to incident fire behavior analyst Bruce Davenport with ridge-top wind gusts of 25 – 30 mph possible.

According to North Carolina Forest Service officials, of the fires burning in WNC, only the Boteler fire is believed to be a result of environmental causes. Officials believe that fire was started due to lightning and the other fires currently being addressed are all being investigated for being started due to human causes. Whether or not the human causes are a;ll accidental, or caused by campfires or other incidents or if they were set intentionally, will likely be determined during the investigation. Due to the location and timing the fires begin, authorities are searching for an arsonist.

United States Congressman Mark Meadows visited command stations in Clay and Macon counties on Wednesday morning to survey the damage.

“The United States Forest Service is looking for an “aggressive arsonist” and asks the publics help in reporting any suspicious behavior that could lead to an arrest,” said Meadows. “I want to assure the residents of Macon County and the surrounding community that my office is closely monitoring the fire situation in Macon, and we are committed to helping the response efforts in whatever way we can. We are actively communicating with N.C. emergency management to provide any assistance we can. The residents of Macon County and the other counties impacted thus far are in my prayers, as well as the first responders on the scene—they are the best in the country and I’m confident they will have this resolved soon.”

Macon County Emergency Management activated their Reverse 911 on Tuesday with the following message: This is a CodeRed message from the Macon County 911 center. Due to an increase in fire danger along with the predicted weather forecast for our area over the next 24-48 hour time period, we are advising residents in your area to be extra vigilant and prepare for possible evacuation from your home. There is no evacuation order at this time but if conditions change, please be prepared for that possibility. Monitor your local media sources for further information and If evacuation orders are put into place, you will receive a CodeRed notification with instructions on how to proceed.

On Wednesday afternoon shortly after noon, a follow up Code Red message was sent to residents of the Partridge Creek Road and Deweese Road in the Nantahala Community to inform residents of a mandatory evacuation due to increased danger. Residents are advise if they do not have somewhere to relocate to, to report to the Nantahala EMS base for further assistance.

During Meadows’ visit to both the command centers in Clay and Macon counties, firefighters from across the country commented on the generosity and kindness of the local community who have come to the aid of the workers with food, supplies, and encouragement.

“It warms my heart to see the residents of these communities stepping up to thank these men and women who are working tirelessly to fight these fires,” said Meadows. “It speaks volumes about the people of Western North Carolina, who I am proud to serve.”

U.S. Forest Service officials praised the local volunteer firefighters for their diligence to work alongside the first service. Volunteer fire departments across the region have helped provide manpower and assistance on the forest service lands, where the fires are currently primarily contained.

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott noted that because of the drought and lack of rain in the forecast, the town of Franklin encourages Franklin residents to be mindful of water usage. While no sort of official usage policy was set by the town, Mayor Scott urged residents to conserve water when possible during the drought.

The United States Forest Service provides daily updates on the fires and the progress made each day. The fire information is broken down by the fire’s location.

Boteler: Boteler Park near Hayesville began on Oct. 25. As of Monday, the fire has spread to 3,504 acres and is only 30 percent contained.

On Tuesday, firefighters scouted areas on the west and north sides of the fire for places to build fire lines. They constructed hand lines from Boteler Peak toward Perry Gap. Firefighters strengthened lines by burning vegetation between fire lines and the main fire.  Tuesday, with predicted changes in the weather for stronger winds from the west and northwest, firefighting operations focused on protection of homes and structures. Structure assessment will be conducted in all developed areas. Firefighters will continue burning vegetation to keep fires within containment lines and protect structures as needed. They will continue to hold the fire line from Bruce Ridge Road around Mill Creek road into Vineyard Creek road.They will coordinate structure protection and maintain and improve a control line northward towards Perry Gap to serve as a fireline. They will continue defensive burning operations to keep fire within containment lines as needed.

Dick’s Creek: Northwest of Sylva, began on Oct. 23. As of Monday, the fire spread to 728 acres and is 80 percent contained.

On Tuesday, crews continued strengthening all fire lines. They monitored the continued leaf fall and potential re-burn as firefighters battled critically dry fuels and unusually active fire behavior. Tuesday, they patrolled, monitored and mopped-up on the Southeast end.  They will also be mopping-up where possible to 50-100 feet in on all control lines, as well as checking and clean out of control lines by raking and blowing newly dropped dry leaves.

Knob: Southwest of Franklin in the Nantahala Mountains and began on Nov. 2. As of Monday, the fire was 28 percent contained and covered 1,113 acres.

The fire is active near Hwy 64. On Sunday, Knob Fire crossed 64, and crews responded immediately to contain it less than 1/10 of an acre.  Hwy 64 was closed for about an hour.  Firefighters continued “tying up loose ends” on this fire, which included planned and carefully monitored lighting of unburned areas to enhance protective value of dozer and hand crew-cut lines, managing snags, and other perimeter controls.  Tuesday, they mopped-up control lines 50-100 feet in by putting out smoldering remnants of the fire.  They also monitored and clean control lines. Crews and security teams will monitor Highway 64 for smoke and traffic as fire progresses and may close the highway for safety at any time.

Whitewater: A 25 acre fire. Fire crews secured and strengthened lines, and established water hose lines along in rocky areas to spray water on the fire on Tuesday.  They continued assessing damage to the trail system.  Tuesday, they improved the lines while monitoring, patrolling, and mopping-up.  Teams will continue assessing damage to trail system as time and conditions allow.

Tellico:  Northwest of Franklin in the Nantahala Mountains, began on Nov. 3. As of Monday, the fire has spread 5,160 acres and is 25 percent contained.

Aircraft dropped retardant on this fire to restrict fire growth.  Ground crews continued structure protection efforts by removing potentially flammable vegetation near structures.  Tuesday, crews worked to secure structures as the fire approaches.  Where needed, bulldozers or hand crews will cut away and clear unburned vegetation in lines to direct the fire away from structures, creating a more defensible space from the wildfire.  Crews will continue establishing control lines to the north and east.  They will continue placing and holding fire lines on the southwest side of the fire to protect structures. They will also locate additional structure protection needs on the east side of the fire, patrol and mop-up.

Ferebee:  Ferebee fire is 1,605 acres in size.

Similar to actions at Tellico, fire crews improved and extended hand firelines and dozer lines today.  They scouted for new line locations in the gorge to tie up flanks. Crews worked to construct fire lines down to the stream from both sides to connect dozer lines.   Tuesday, they worked on completing dozer lines on top of the ridge.  Also, they will scout for areas to cut off the fire spread to the north and south.  The major focus is to protect structures in areas adjacent to the fire. “Our focus is on structure protection first as we go after this fire,” said Mike Huneke, Ferebee Division Supervisor.

Cliffside: The fire is located three miles west of Highlands near Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. The fire started on Nov. 2 and as of Monday, was 85 percent contained in the 101 burning acres.

Firefighters monitored the fire’s actions, patrolled, and mopped-up.Tuesday, they expanded mop-up control lines 100 feet in the direction of the fire.  They also will monitor and clean out these lines.

On Monday, control lines were established around the current fire perimeter.

May Branch: The fire broke out on Nov. 5 and is 50 percent contained in the 175 acres that are burning.

On Monday, crews focused on a patrol status (patrol and mop-up). Crews monitored the fire, patrolled, and mopped-up on Tuesday. They also checked and cleaned out control lines.  Tuesday, they increased mop-up distance to 100 feet in from control lines while monitoring and cleaning out control lines.

Buck Creek:  Buck Creek is the newest fire, beginning on Nov. 6. The fire is over eight acres and is 100 percent contained as of Tuesday.

Firefighters contained the fire.  They also improved fire lines, conducted mop up and patrolled.  Tuesday, firefighters monitored and patrolled the fire.

Avey Branch and Maple Springs fires: A Type 3 Incident Management Team (Nevada IMT3 Team 4) is managing the Avey Branch that includes the Avey Branch and Maple Springs fires. The fires will likely burn together to form one larger fire within the next day. The Avey Branch started on Nov. 4, at 5:44 P.M. and has grown to be about 540 acres. The fire is located north of Santeetlah Lake. The fire Monday was active with wind driven runs, and terrain driven uphill runs. The fire is burning in hardwood litter and brush. The fire managers are primarily focused on structure protection in the Gold Mine area. Dozer lines are being constructed around the perimeter of the private land to protect the structures in the Gold Mine area, and helicopters are dumping water on the active head of the fire to slow the fire spread. Dozer lines have been constructed in the Rock Creek drainage to slow fire growth from moving south. Engines will be working in and patrolling the Gold Mine area today. Forest Roads 1127 and 1134 east of the Gold Mine area are closed.

Grape Cove, Jarrett Bald, Jones Gap, Mulberry, Moss Knob, Moses Creek, and Wine Springs: Crews assessed new fires and continued monitoring and patrolling, and will continue to do so. Jones Gap is northwest of Highlands and started on Oct. 29. As of Monday the fire was 115 acres and was 80 percent contained.

The cost of fighting the fires have exceeded $3 million and as of Wednesday totals $3,195,520 for the seven largest fires burning in the district. The bulk of those funds have been spent to fight the Boteler Fire in Clay County.

Safety

Visibility along Highway 64 may be limited at times due to smoke and fog. With more people and equipment arriving to fight fires in the area, motorists should exercise caution when driving. No campfires are allowed except in developed campgrounds with fees. Homeowners can prevent property damage from fires by keeping flammable materials such as woodpiles or dead leaves away from your home or propane tanks.

Fire Restrictions

The Nantahala National Forest has the following fire restrictions in place:

Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire is not allowed outside of developed campgrounds where a fee is paid.

The use of portable lanterns, stoves, or heating equipment that use gas or pressurized liquid fuel is allowed. Charcoal fires are not allowed.

Permissible fires must be confined to metal fire rings and grills that are provided in the National Forest only at the locations listed at the link below.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/nfsnc/alerts-notices/?aid=37484

 

The State of North Carolina has enacted a burn ban for the following counties: Alexander, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey. Under North Carolina law, the ban prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was issued.

For more information, see http://ncforestservice.gov/news_pubs/newsdesk_2016.htm

As of Tuesday, 549 firefighters and support staff are fighting 18 wildfire fires to protect people, structures, and infrastructure.    Strong winds anticipated Tuesday and Wednesday will create “very active fire behavior” according to incident fire behavior analyst Bruce Davenport.  West winds are expected to start increasing as early at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday.  Ridge-top wind gusts of 25 – 30 mph will be possible Wednesday morning.  Northwest winds will develop as early as 4:00 a.m. Wednesday, with the strongest gusts expected Wednesday afternoon.  Gusts of 20 – 25 mph will be possible for much of the night.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory visited the fires over the weekend to asses the damage and provide state assistance.

“We have hundreds upon hundreds of acres that are under fire, causing tremendous smoke. Our team is working together to deal with these fires. This is extremely dangerous work because they are accessing areas that are not accessible by road, and of course, if the wind direction changes at any time, these men and women put their lives at risk,” said Governor McCrory. “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the U.S. Forest Service and the N.C. Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service has personnel from all over the nation helping fight our fires in western North Carolina. I might add, a lot of these forestry personnel are returning from the floods down east and now they’re dealing with the fires and the drought here out west. I really want to thank the firefighters, first responders and other emergency personnel that are dealing with this issue.”

Macon County Emergency Management Activated their Reverse 911 on Tuesday with the following message: This is a CodeRed message from the Macon County 911 center. Due to an increase in fire danger along with the predicted weather forecast for our area over the next 24-48 hour time period, we are advising residents in your area to be extra vigilant and prepare for possible evacuation from your home. There is no evacuation order at this time but if conditions change, please be prepared for that possibility. Monitor your local media sources for further information and If evacuation orders are put into place, you will receive a CodeRed notification with instructions on how to proceed.

According to North Carolina Forest Service Officials, of the fires burning in WNC, only the Boteler fire is believed to be caused by environmental causes. Officials believe that fire was started due to lightning and the other fires currently being addressed are all being investigated for being started due to human causes. Whether or not the human causes are accidental, or caused by campfires or other incidents or if they were set intentionally, will likely be determined during the investigation.

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott noted that because of the drought and lack of rain in the forecast, the town of Franklin encourages Franklin residents to be mindful of water usage. While no sort of official usage policy was set by the town, Mayor Scott urged residents to conserve water when possible during the drought.

Congressman Mark Meadows was on the ground on Wednesday to see the damage first hand.

“I want to assure the residents of Macon County and the surrounding community that my office is aware of the fire situation in Macon, and we are committed to helping the response efforts in whatever way we can,” said Congressman Meadows. “On Tuesday, I spoke with Sheriff Holland of Macon County and my staff and I made plans to be on the ground on Wednesday to get an update from the Forest Service. We are actively communicating with NC emergency management to provide any assistance we can. The residents of Macon County are in my prayers, as well as the first responders on the scene—they are the best in the country and I’m confident they will have this resolved soon.”

The United States Forest Service provides daily updates on the fires and the progress made each day. The fire information is broken down by the fire’s location.

Boteler: Boteler Park near Hayesville began on October 25. As of Monday, the fire spread 2,532 acres and is only 30 percent contained.

On Tuesday, firefighters scouted areas on the west and north sides of the fire for places to build fire lines. They constructed hand line from Boteler Peak toward Perry Gap. Firefighters strengthened line by burning vegetation between fire lines and the main fire.  Tuesday, with predicted changes in the weather for stronger winds from the west and northwest, firefighting operations focused on protection of homes and structures. Structure assessment will be conducted in all developed areas. Firefighters will continue burning vegetation to keep fire within containment lines and protect structures as needed. They will continue to hold the fire line from Bruce Ridge Road around Mill Creek road into Vineyard Creek road.They will coordinate structure protection and maintain and improve control line northward towards Perry Gap to serve as a fireline. They will continue defensive burning operations to keep fire within containment lines as needed.

Dick’s Creek: Northwest of Sylva, began on October 23. As of Monday, the fire spread to 726 acres and is 80 percent contained.

On Tuesday, crews continued strengthening all fire lines. They monitored the continued leaf fall and potential re-burn as firefighters battled critically dry fuels and unusually active fire behavior. Tuesday, they patrolled, monitor and mop-up on the Southeast end.  They will also be mopping-up where possible to 50-100 feet in on all control lines, as well as checking and clean out of control lines by raking and blowing newly dropped dry leaves.

Knob: Southwest of Franklin in the Nantahala Mountains and began on November 2. As of Monday, the fire was 28 percent contained and covered 644 acres.

The fire is active near Hwy 64. On Sunday, Knob Fire crossed 64, and crews responded immediately to contain it less than 1/10 of an acre.  Hwy 64 was closed for about an hour.  Firefighters continued “tying up loose ends” on this fire, which included planned and carefully monitored lighting of unburned areas to enhance protective value of dozer and hand crew-cut lines, managing snags, and other perimeter controls.  Tuesday, they moped-up control lines 50-100 feet in by putting out smoldering remnants of the fire.  They also monitored and clean control lines. Crews and security teams will monitor Highway 64 for smoke and traffic as fire progresses and may close the highway for safety at any time.

Whitewater: Fire crews secured and strengthened lines, and established water hose lines along in rocky areas to spray water on the fire on Tuesday.  They continued assessing damage to the trail system.  Tuesday, they improved the lines while monitoring, patrolling, and mopping-up.  Teams will continue assessing damage to trail system as time and conditions allow.

Tellico:  Northwest of Franklin in the Nantahala Mountains, began on November 3. As of Monday, the fire spread 3,417 acres and is 25 percent contained.

Aircraft dropped retardant on this fire to restrict fire growth.  Ground crews continued structure protection efforts by removing potentially flammable vegetation near structures.  Tuesday, crews worked to secure structures as the fire approaches.  Where needed, bulldozers or hand crews will cut away and clear unburned vegetation in lines to direct the fire away from structures, creating a more defensible space from the wildfire.  Crews will continue establishing control lines to the North and East.  They will continue placing and holding fire lines on the Southwest side of the fire to protect structures. They will also locate additional structure protection needs on the East side of the fire, patrol and mop-up.

Ferebee:  Ferebee fire is 1,132 acres in size.

Similar to actions at Tellico, fire crews improved and extended hand firelines and dozer lines today.  They scouted for new line locations in the gorge to tie up flanks. Crews worked to construct fire lines down to the stream from both sides to connect dozer lines.   Tuesday, they worked on completing dozer lines on top of the ridge.  Also, they will scout for areas to cut off the fire spread to the North and South.  The major focus is to protect structures in areas adjacent to the fire. “Our Focus is on structure protection first as we go after this fire,” said Mike Huneke, Ferebee Division Supervisor.

Cliffside: The fire is located three miles west of Highlands near Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. The fire started on November 2 and as of Monday, was 85 percent contained in the 101 acres of flames.

Firefighters monitored the fires actions, patrolled, and mopped-up.Tuesday, they expanded mop-up control lines 100 feet in the direction of the fire.  They also will monitor and clean out these lines.

On Monday, control lines were established around the current fire perimeter.

May Branch: The fire broke out on November 5 and is 50 percent contained in the 175 acres that are burning.

On Monday, crews focuses on a patrol status (patrol and mop-up). Crews monitored the fire, patrolled, and mopped-up on Tuesday. They also checked and cleaned out control lines.  Tuesday, they increased mop-up distance to 100 feet in from control lines while monitoring and cleaning out control lines.

Buck Creek:  Bucks Creek is the newest fire, beginning on November 6. The fire is over eight acres and is 100 percent contained as of Tuesday.

Firefighters contained the fire.  They also improved fire lines, conducted mop up and patrolled.  Tuesday, firefighters monitored and patrolled the fire.

Avey Branch, Grape Cove, Jarrett Bald, Jones Gap, Maples Springs, Mulberry, Moss Knob, Moses Creek, and Wine Springs: Crews assessed new fires and continued monitoring and patrolling, and will do the same today. Jones Gap is northwest of Highlands and started on October 29. As of Monday the fire was 115 acres and was 80 percent contained.

Safety

Visibility along Highway 64 may be limited at times due to smoke and fog. With more people and equipment arriving to fight fires in the area, motorists should exercise caution when driving. HIGH Fire Danger today! NO Campfires allowed except in developed campgrounds with fees. Homeowners can prevent property damage from fires by keeping flammable materials such as woodpiles or dead leaves away from your home or propane tanks.

Fire Restrictions

The Nantahala National Forest has the following fire restrictions in place:

Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire is not allowed outside of developed campgrounds where a fee is paid.

The use of portable lanterns, stoves, or heating equipment that use gas or pressurized liquid fuel is allowed. Charcoal fires are not allowed.

Permissible fires must be confined to metal fire rings and grills that are provided in the National Forest only at the locations listed at the link below.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/nfsnc/alerts-notices/?aid=37484

The State of Carolina has enacted a burn ban for the following counties: Alexander, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey. Under North Carolina law, the ban prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was issued.

For more information, see http://ncforestservice.gov/news_pubs/newsdesk_2016.htm

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