Pilot Mountain wildfire caused by campfire, 50% contained at this time

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SURRY COUNTY, N.C. — Update: Thursday at 10:30 a.m., North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler will visit the command post at the Pilot Mountain wildfire to get an update on efforts to control the fire. Troxler will then speak to media members and answer questions. We’ll bring you the latest from his visit. 

The North Carolina Forest Service said a campfire started the wildfire burning at Pilot Mountain. 

It was started in a non-designated/unauthorized area. They said there’s no word on who’s responsible for the fire. 

Thursday makes day six of the firefight. Firefighters have the blaze 50% contained. As of Wednesday afternoon, the blaze had torched just over 1,000 acres – about the same as the previous day. Before then, the wildfire had been doubling in size every day. Firefighters remain on high alert, however, because the elements still aren’t in their favor. Dry conditions and no rain in sight aren’t a good mix for wildfires. 

A burn ban has been issued for all counties in the state and it will stay in effect until further notice.

Here’s some of the latest information from North Carolina Service Ranger Jimmy Holt on the Pilot Mountain wildfire. 

  • The wildfire is sitting at just over 1,000 acres burned, so it hasn’t gotten any larger than it was the previous day. Dry weather conditions are still an issue for firefighters. 
  • Holt said most of the fire has been brought down the mountain, and firefighters are managing to keep a good handle on controlling it. He said the fight is far from over, and more work still needs to be done. Crews are working to suppress the fire from the bottom of the mountain.
  • NC Forestry officials believe the fire was “human-caused” and started by a campfire. 

The law enforcement division within the NC Forest Service is working on the investigation at this time.

How large is the fire?

As of Wednesday afternoon, the wildfire was sitting at just over 1,000 acres burned — getting no bigger than the previous day. Before then, the blaze was doubling in size every day. 

Dozens of fire-fighting officials have been called in to help, including North Carolina Forest Service personnel and North Carolina Parks crews. Planes are also being used to dump water onto the fire.

When did it start?

Chris Wall, a firefighter with the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department, said the department got a call about the fire around 5:15 p.m. Saturday. He said two departments were sent out to the area of Three Bear Gully, where they made access to the fire on foot. The fire grew to about 60 acres that evening. In a matter of three days, the fire has grown four times that size. 

What’s the name of the fire?

The fire has been named the Grindstone Fire because it started along the Grindstone Trail on Pilot Mountain.

What caused the fire?

North Carolina Forest Service Ranger Jimmy Holt said Monday, “we can say with confidence that [the fire] was human-caused in some form.” He said they know the fire wasn’t started by a lightning strike, leading them to believe it was man-made. They have since said it started as a campfire. 

He said the fire was first discovered on Grindstone Trail. 

Officials said many of the fires we’re seeing this time of year are being caused by drought and the leaves being on the ground, according to NC Forestry Service. Officials said the Sauratown Mountain fire was also caused by a campfire.

“Debris burning is the number one cause of escaped wildfires throughout North Carolina and the eastern part of the country,” Holt said.

State Forest Service Investigators haven’t said who started the fire and whether they face penalties depends on intent.

“If it’s a non-malicious act, then sometimes that can result in a warning ticket for instance. It just depends on what our law enforcement officers view the intent as,” Holt said.

When could the fire be out?

Holt said the firefight could last until the end of the week. 

The dry and windy weather conditions aren’t helping firefighters either, and there’s virtually no chance for rain in our area until Sunday. 

North Carolina officials said they will continue to make this fire a priority until it rains, even once the fire is under control.

Is there a threat to homes?

Fire officials said no one has been hurt and no buildings have been damaged. No homes have had to be evacuated either. The fire is happening in the state park, and the closest homes are outside of that area, in the valley below. 

Officials believe the wildlife is largely okay and say that fire can create a better habitat for new growth.

How long could the state park be closed? 

Pilot Mountain State Park will be closed through the end of the week and into next week, officials said Monday. Park officials are encouraging people to avoid the area. 

There is no word on when the park will reopen. State officials said they would first need to check infrastructure and clear any damaged trees. 

How can people help?

Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan Cockerham said firefighters could use the community’s help with donations of bottled water, snacks, Gatorade, and other items to stay hydrated. People can drop off the items at the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department on Key Street.

Cockerham also asked that no one burn anything for the time being in Surry and surrounding counties. A burn ban law has been issued for North Carolina. 

Fire officials are asking that no one fly drones in the area of the wildfire because it could disrupt their fire-fighting efforts.

Reports of smoke, haze in other counties 

Forsyth County Emergency Services said they’re receiving numerous calls about strong smoke and haze in the area. They said it’s from the Pilot Mountain wildfire. Guilford County has also reported smoke sightings. Emergency operators said unless it’s an emergency, don’t call. 

What is the burn ban law? 

The burn ban law prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was previously issued. The issuance of any new permits has also been suspended until the ban is lifted.

Those who violate the burn ban will face a $100 fine plus $183 court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire, according to the North Carolina Forest Service. State officials said fire departments and law enforcement officers will enforce the burn ban.