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A man was arrested and a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed as wildfires burn in western North Carolina amid the state’s ongoing drought.
North Carolina joins a growing list of states grappling with the escalating wildfire. A burn ban is currently in effect for 30 counties, and firefighters from across the region have mobilized to combat the ongoing wildfire in the western part of the state.
WMBF reports Duff Swan, 51, of Florida, was cited and charged in connection with Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County, which started on Nov. 3. The fire remains 434 acres in size and is now 98% contained.
The North Carolina Forest Service said the cause of the wildfire was a debris burn that occurred on private property on Oct. 26.
A portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed beginning Nov. 15 between milepost 66.3, near U.S. Highway 501, to milepost 85.9, at Virginia State Route 43, until further notice. Park visitors should plan for a detour from the north or south using adjacent routes and Interstate 81.
The Blue Ridge Parkway closure will assist U.S. Forest Service crews fighting the Matt’s Creek Fire, burning on National Forest lands within the Jefferson National Forest.
“This proactive closure is due to worsening smoke impacts in the area,” a Facebook post read. “The Parkway is closed to all uses, including motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. The public’s cooperation with these closures helps support the safety of staff, visitors, and fire crews.”
Blue Ridge Parkway visitors should use extra caution when traveling through the area.
The following fires have contributed to the ongoing wildfire crisis in NC:
Poplar Drive fire in Henderson County
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County is now 90% contained and remains 434 acres. Percent containment represents sections of fire line that pose no escape risk without further action from firefighters.
One home, two cabins, two uninhabitable mobile homes, one uninhabitable cabin and two outbuildings were destroyed. One home was damaged. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Alum Knob fire in Madison County
The Alum Knob Fire in Madison County is holding at 36 acres and 50% contained. Firefighters are working to reinforce containment lines that were constructed over the weekend.
Elk Creek, Tripplett and Branch fires
The Elk Creek, Tripplett and Branch fires are currently being mopped up by firefighters. Elk Creek Fire in Watauga started on Nov. 8 and is 225 acres and 90% contained with some minimal smoldering in the interior of the fire footprint. The Tripplett Fire in Wilkes County is 107 acres and 90% contained. No homes were damaged or destroyed. The Tripplett Fire started Nov. 8. The Branch Fire in Wilkes County, which started Nov. 9, is 80 acres and is 65% contained.
Three structures are threatened on the Branch Fire. The cause of these three fires is under investigation.
East Fork fire in Jackson County
The East Fork Fire in Jackson County is 310 acres in size and has reached 100% containment as of Nov. 14. No structures were damaged or destroyed by this fire.
Collett Ridge fire in Cherokee and Clay counties
The Collett Ridge Fire is burning in Cherokee and Clay counties. The fire is 5,335 acres in size and 71% contained. The Collett Ridge Fire is being managed under unified command between the Southern Area Blue Team and the Forest Service.
Information on this fire can be found at inciweb.wildfire.gov. The cause of Collett Ridge was determined to be lightning.
Firefighting efforts continue amid ongoing drought
Also contributing to the wildfire crisis is the ongoing drought.
“[The] drought is statewide but more severe in the western part of the state,” said Philip Jackson with the North Carolina Forest Service.
Governor Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought and wildfire.
The North Carolina Forest Service blames careless debris burning for the state’s current wildfire crisis.
Fire departments within our viewing area are actively engaged in the firefighting efforts. Crews from Hillsborough are currently on the ground, while firefighters from Rocky Mount are set to deploy on Thursday.
As the wildfire continues to burn in western counties, including Hendersonville, firefighters are battling the fire from the air and on the ground.
“We identified an area where the fire did not burn all the way to the fire line we put in,” Operations Section Chief David LaFon. “That unburned area can be susceptible to catching fire and throwing embers if we do not handle it. The plan for a burnout of the green vegetation is the best and safest course of action for our firefighters and the citizens living near this area. Once the burn is completed, the fire line in this section will be better reinforced to keep the fire in footprint in place.”
Jackson said some progress has been made.
While significant progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go in containing the wildfire. Local fire departments are stepping in to provide much-needed support to the ongoing efforts.
The fire chief from Orange Rural Fire Department told WRAL that four firefighters and two trucks have been on the ground since Monday, battling the wildfire in western North Carolina.
In addition, the Rocky Mount Fire Department sent four firefighters and a truck on Thursday to join the firefighting efforts.
“It’s difficult to get water in the area,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to get vehicles in the area.”
North Carolina officials are urging all residents, even those in areas not directly affected by the burn ban, to exercise extreme caution when engaging in any outdoor burning activities.
“It doesn’t take much for the smallest ignition to spread into a large-scale, intense wildfire,” Jackson said.
State officials said they will continue assessing weather conditions to see if the ban needs to be extended.
The State Department of Environmental Quality said Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties may experience Code Red air quality conditions, meaning all residents should try to limit their time outdoors.
Graham and Henderson counties and the southern mountain ridgetops in this area are forecast to have Code Orange air quality conditions, which is unhealthy to groups who are sensitive to air pollution. Children, older adults and people with asthma should limit their time outdoors during Code Orange conditions.