Multiple wildfires continue to burn across our region, as dry conditions, high winds, and fallen leaves create a high-risk situation for fire to ignite and spread rapidly. North Carolina is currently experiencing six significant active fires this week, totaling over 6000 acres of burned area, and structural damage has occurred as a result.
“Believe it or not, each year, the American South experiences more wildfires than any other region in the United States,” the National Forest Service of North Carolina (NFSNC) posted on their Facebook page in an update. “While Western fires destroy more property, it’s important to know that Southern fires are becoming more common and more intense.”
The two largest fires are the Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County, where structural damage has been reported, and the Collett Ridge Fire in Cherokee and Clay Counties, where fires have spread over 5,447 acres. According to officials, one home, two cabins, one uninhabitable mobile home, one uninhabitable cabin, and two outbuildings were destroyed in the Poplar Drive Fire, while one other home was damaged.
Containment and damage mitigation efforts have been extensive.
“The mop-up process is going to take some time, but we have a drone flying the fire at night to find the greatest sources of heat and we are trying our best to tackle those with as much water and personnel as possible,” Operations Section Chief Dwayne Vigil stated in a press release on the Poplar Drive Fire. “The rhododendron and brush are thick and still have a good bit of leaves. In some areas the vegetation is so thick, firefighters have to cut their way into the brush. If vegetation falls over and the leaves fall onto the smoldering areas, the fire could reignite and throw embers.”
According to NFSNC, the Poplar Drive Fire is now 98% contained and remains at 434 acres as firefighters continue containment efforts and officials investigate what started the fire. The 5,447-acre Collett Ridge Fire, which less than a week ago was only 90 acres, is 80% contained and has been deemed to have been started by lightning. The fire gained roughly 100 acres just in the last 24 hours due to tactical firing methods used to help the fire reach stronger containment lines.
“Fire leadership deemed the weather conditions to be favorable for tactical firing operations to bring the fire down towards the existing handline and to take an opportunity to strengthen existing containment,” NFSNC stated in a posted update. “ In order to create a stronger buffer between unburnt areas and these heat pockets, firefighters have been doing ‘back burning.’”
Resources assigned to the fire include four 20-person handcrews, 19 Engines 2 dozers, and 1 water tenders. Aerial resources include two helicopters. Photo by Matt Switzer, PIO Collett Ridge Fire courtesy of NFSNC.
As of today, 704 fires have been reported in North Carolina since November 1. According to NFSNC, in the fiscal year of 2021-2022 there were 6,887 wildfires in the state and only 1% were directly linked to a natural ignition source. The remaining 99% were related to human activity including escaped campfires. For updates on current fires, closures, and burn bans, visit ncforestservice.gov.
Cover Image: U.S. Forest Service