Forest Fire Forces North Carolina State Park Closure

A fire that started last Saturday has spread across North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain State Park, resulting in a park closure and round-the-clock, multi-agency mitigation efforts. The NC Forestry Service, Pilot Mountain State Park Rangers, Pinnacle VFD, South Surry VFD, Double Creek VFD, Westfield VFD, Bannertown VFD, Shoals VFD, Fall Creek VFD, and nearly 50 volunteers are working to contain the fire. In addition to closing the park, which is located about 25 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, officials are enforcing a ban on outdoor burning in Surry and surrounding counties until further notice.

“We are still closely monitoring the fire at Pilot Mountain State Park,” Mayor Evan J. Cockerham said in a Facebook post soon after the fire started. “Of course it was our local firefighters at Pilot Knob Vol. Fire Department and surrounding departments that were on-site first to respond last night. Despite their heroic efforts, strong winds and dry fuels have now spread the fire over a few hundred acres.”

View of Pilot Mountain at night covered in bright orange flames as smoke blows off the mountain
Photo by Tyler Campbell @tylercampbell_photography

Katie Hall, Public Information Officer for North Carolina State Parks, says that there is no clear cause of the fire and as of now nearly 500 acres of the 800-acre park have burned. 

“All we know is that it started right off of Grindstone Trail, which is a really popular trail in the mountain section of the park, Hall says. “That’s not a camping area so it wouldn’t be a campfire and it’s not a picnic area either so it wouldn’t be a grill or a picnicking-related fire.” 

The area’s last prescribed fire was in 2019, keeping it on track for its next scheduled one that was set for 2022. Prescribed burns are commonly used for proper forest management to reduce the risk and severity of potential wildfires. 

“Unfortunately, we have tons of leaf litter that just fell off the trees,” Hall says. “That’s fresh fuel for a fire. What prescribed burning does is it burns the more dense underbrush and can keep wildfires from smoldering longer and spreading farther. Thankfully the bottom of the mountain itself is a major firebreak with dozer lines which means a very wide area of no fuel for the fire.” 

The dozer lines not only help contain the fire to the mountain, they also reduce the risk of home or property damage to the surrounding land. Currently, there have been no reported injuries from the fire at this point. The park is expected to be closed the rest of the week to continue containment efforts and to give officials time to assess the area. 

“I think the number one thing to remind people is that, even though we’re a park, our number one priority is preventing any loss of life,” Hall says. “As far as just fire safety and preventing this sort of thing, it’s very important for people to follow park rules, especially not littering and not lighting campfires in places that are not allowed. Always put your campfire in a designated area and pay attention to burn bans, because our rules are put in place for a reason. Sometimes you’re not even allowed to grill out in certain areas at certain times of year because of fire danger. It only takes one ember to and ends up in a situation like this.” 

Officials are urging the public to stay away from the park to avoid injury and possible health issues from the heavy amounts of smoke. Hall says that the best way to assist with the current situation is to donate food to feed the firefighters and to donate money to local organizations helping put out the fire. She also asks the public to be patient in the coming weeks as the park recovers from this disaster. 

“There will still be a lot of smoldering and a lot of going on in this area of the park to make sure any smoldering areas are completely put out,” Hall says. “It will cause a delay in reopening of this area of the park but we will reopen any area that’s not affected as soon as we can once it’s safe for visitors and when we have the staff. Right now, all of our staff is directed towards this effort and keeping people safe.”

Mayor Even J. Cockerham made a post updating the public that the Pilot Mountain fire chief and rescue chief are requesting monetary donations only, and that if you have items already bought, you can drop them off at the Pilot Mtn Rescue Squad’s facility at 615 East 52 Bypass in Pilot Mountain, N.C. Monetary donations can be made in person at Town Hall, by phone with card at 336-368-2247 ext 0, or online at www.pilotmountainnc.org. 

Cover photo by Tyler Campbell @tylercampbell_photography

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