From Brian Haines, Public Information Officer, NC Forest Service, 7/6/2011:
The men and women of the N.C. Forest Service have been battling wildfires across the coastal region of the state since the beginning of May. Drought conditions have dried forest fuels, including the organic soil that is prevalent in this region. Thunderstorms that produce little rain but ample lightening are responsible for many of the wildfires currently burning and inundating hundreds of miles with smoke. In fact, smoke from these fires has been reported as far north as Maryland.
A ban on open burning has been put in place in Washington, Tyrrell and Dare counties and all areas south of Route 65 and east of Interstate 95. The Governor has also issued an emergency declaration in this region to assist the state with obtaining necessary assets to combat these wildfires. In fact, we have resources from across the country in North Carolina assisting us.
The four major fires are burning in organic soil, which can be a few inches deep to eight feet or deeper. Ground fire such as this smolders in the ground causing a great deal of smoke and can burn for months or until there is a soaking rain. Combating ground fire is difficult because it creeps underground, drying out vegetation above it until reaches a point of combustion. Unlike structural fires that can normally be suppressed using a lot of water, wildfires are fought by creating control lines around the fire to stop its progression; the interior is then allowed to burn itself out. Again, ground fire smolders underground and can do so until it receives a good soaking rain.
The Pains Bay Fire, burning in Dare County, began on May 4 from a lightning strike and has burned more than 45,000 acres. Most of that occurred in the first few days of the fire as firefighters were establishing control lines. Since that time water-handling operations pumped millions of gallons of water onto the perimeter of the fire each day to help raise the water table and extinguish the ground fire. This fire is contained and has been turned back over to the local resources to monitor. However, a lot of the ground fire is still burning on the interior of the fire and at a higher elevation making it difficult to access and pump water and will continue to produce smoke indefinitely or until the fire receives a good soaking rain.
The Juniper Road Fire in Pender County began on June 19 and is exhibiting similar behavior to the Dare County Fire. It has burned more than 31,000 acres so far. Fueled by southern breezes, this fire continued to grow as fire fighters established control lines. This fire has received rain periodically but usually less than an inch, which helps fire fighters to get some valuable work done but doesn’t come close to extinguishing it. It also lacks the canal system that the Pender County fire has, meaning there are less options for pumping water around the perimeter. This fire is also burning in the organic soil and will likely take a soaking rain before it is extinguished. This fire is currently 68 percent contained
The newest large fire, the Simmons Road Fire, is burning in Bladen County and has consumed over 5,400 acres and three houses; it is 50 percent contained. This fire has caused the evacuation of homes as it continues to push forward. Firefighters continue to construct pre-suppression lines and directly attack where fire intensity allows. This fire is also burning in organic soil and has received less than an inch, which is not enough to extinguish the fire.
There are a number of smaller fires in the southeastern part of the state including: the Blueberry Farm Fire in Sampson County that has burned 600 acres and is currently 100 percent contained; and the Good Morning 2 Fire that has burned 60 acres in Columbus County. It’s 90 percent contained at this time.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to simply dump enough water on any of these fires from aircraft to suppress them completely. Nor is it feasible to pump enough water to smother them.
There are additional fires across the state that personnel from the N.C. Forest Service are also working. In fact, not including the four largest fires, the N.C. Forest Service responded 698 fires that burned 3,882 acres from May 1 to July 5. Resources work up to two weeks at a time, often 12 to 14 hour days with little break time. Many of our folks are on their third or fourth assignment this summer alone.
See WRAL newsclips on the fire such as this one:
Bladen/Cumberland County Fire jumps line causing more home evacuations: http://www.wral.com/news/state/story/9818372/
There is excellent coverage of the fires down east and air quality reports at that link.
Also – keep abreast of the fires and other recent activities of the NC Forest Service at their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/NC-Division-of-Forest-Resources/117366861613343