Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Wildfires popped up over the weekend across Western North Carolina, at the same time that the United States Forest Service issued a burn ban for the region. The N.C. Forest Service has issued a ban on open burning across all of Western North Carolina.
The ban went into effect Friday, April 3, at 5 p.m., and remains in effect until further notice. The ban is in effect for the following counties:
Alexander, Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.
The burn ban does not apply to fires started within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling. Fires within that 100 feet must be confined within an enclosure from which burning material may not escape or within a protected area upon which a watch is being maintained and which is provided with adequate fire protection equipment.
Anyone violating the burn ban faces a $100 fine plus $180 in court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for reimbursing the N.C. Forest Service for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire.
According to the Forest Service, this is spring wildfire season, and fire danger is expected to remain high across Western North Carolina this week.
On Friday, a fire on private property in the Cals Creek area of Macon County east of Highway 23/441 started on private property and spread onto Forest Service land in the Nantahala Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest. Over the weekend, 25 firefighters responded. Forest Service helicopters and air tankers made multiple water drops throughout the weekend in attempt to slow the spread of the fire.
The fire spread to about 90 acres, before being contained and as of Monday afternoon, Lisa Jennings with the NC Forest Service reported that the fire was 90 percent contained. Around 30 firefighters remained on scene on Monday to monitor the fire and extinguish any hot spots remaining near the fire lines. The Cals Creek fire included federal and state forestry agencies as well as fire crews from The Nature Conservancy.
Another fire broke out in Haywood County around the same time near Camp Daniel Boone. As of Monday, Jennings reported that the Camp Daniel Boone fire remained at 72 acres and was 80 percent contained. The fire started Friday, April 3, on private property off Little East Fork Road and burned into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area on the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. Ten U.S. Forest Service firefighters remain on scene to monitor the fire and patrol for any remaining hot spots near the fire lines. The northern Art Loeb and Little East Fork trailheads remain closed due to the fire operations but are expected to reopen later in the week.
Firefighting resources to contain the Camp Daniel Boone Fire included federal and state forestry agencies as well as the Lake Logan Volunteer Fire Department (VFD). The Lake Logan VFD provided 19 volunteers and a variety of firefighting equipment to protect numerous structures for the first 24 hours. The assistance of volunteers is critical in the success of U.S. Forest Service firefighting efforts.
The cause of both fires remains under investigation.
Firefighters also responded to a new wildfire that began on Sunday evening near Lake Appalachia Dam in Cherokee County. The Hiwassee River Fire was reported in a steep area near the lake, on both US Forest Service and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lands.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Hiwassee River Fire was estimated at 80 acres but was 100 percent contained. The fire was burning on US Forest Service property on the Nantahala National Forest Tusquitee Ranger District and on TVA lands surrounding Lake Appalachia. Firefighters worked late into the night Sunday to construct containment lines in steep terrain. On Monday, firefighters conducted burn-out operations which help to contain the fire by consuming the unburned fuel between the active fire and the control lines.
Approximately 14 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service were on scene Monday. A helicopter will be used for reconnaissance of the fire area and other support as needed. While the cause of the Cherokee County fire is under investigation, it is suspected to be arson. If anyone knows anything about someone deliberately setting fires, call 911.
The U.S. Forest Service urges the public to practice caution as they visit the national forests. Visitors are asked to follow guidance under the burn ban and consider postponing their camping trips. Stay up to date on current national forest closures at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/currentclosures.
Review the National Forests in North Carolina website for updates and more information at www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nfsnc, and on Twitter at twitter.com/NFsNCarolina.