June 9,  2008

Wildfire on the mainland sends thick smoke over Hatteras Island


A wildfire on the eastern North Carolina mainland in Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties has sent thick smoke and ash over parts of Hatteras Island off and on for the past several days.
The smoke, driven on southwest winds, has been especially thick north of Oregon Inlet and in the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo area. On Monday, it drifted as far south as Buxton.

So far, it has not been a problem in Frisco, Hatteras village, or Ocracoke, though cars in some of those villages have been coated with ash.

The thick, acrid smoke and the extremely hot temperatures have caused some islanders and visitors to gasp for a breath when they venture out of the air-conditioning. It has rained ash and left a heavy haze over the island.

At mid-day on Monday, Tom Murphy of Rodanthe, said the smoke was so thick at his house that he could not see the strobe light at the top of a communication tower just 1/4 mile from where he lives.  He said his daughter, who lives in Richmond, Va., had an ash coating on her car.

The fire was ignited by lightning on Saturday, June 1, and quickly spread last week, burning underground in the decayed vegetation just under the soil in peat bogs.

As of Sunday evening, the fire has burned more than 32,000 acres.  Gov. Mike Easley has declared a state of emergency in Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties.  Nobody has been injured in the fire, and no buildings have been destroyed.  However, the fire has threatened about 80 homes and another 50 outbuildings.

The Evans Road fire was active through Sunday evening and has grown beyond the 32,556 acres reported Sunday night, primarily to the north and east, according to the inter-agency incident management team fighting the fire and disseminating information.

Monday morning’s report said that the fire continued to spread east and northeast into the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The fire was 40 percent contained and 23 miles of containment lines needed to be constructed or improved. Fire activity was expected to be moderately active Monday.  Burnout operations continued on the southeastern perimeter of the fire to strengthen containment lines.

The fire is projected to spread farther east into the wildlife refuge over the next 24 hours and its presence will continue to impact refuge operations.

Monday morning’s air quality advisory on the incident Web site noted:

"This morning the smoke from the Evans Road Fire in Eastern NC is lofting off to the east-southeast from the fire location and impacting much of southern Tyrrell County, northern Hyde County, and a large portion of Dare County. Visibility is currently degraded at the reporting stations at Manteo and Cape Hatteras along the smoke's path. This is a very good indication that the smoke is at ground-level versus passing overtop of these areas. As the day progresses, wind conditions are anticipated to once again become variable allowing for the smoke to spread out around the fire as was the case on Sunday. This said, there are more and more indications that winds will eventually increase from the southwest late this afternoon and evening. If the southwesterly winds do develop, expect the smoke plume to begin moving more northeastward across the Albemarle Sound and toward areas such as Elizabeth City, Kill Devil Hills, and Duck. Unfortunately, increasing winds will also help fan the flames and increase the intensity of this massive fire. People in the Washington, Beaufort, Tyrrell, Hyde, and Dare County areas with any respiratory aliments are advised to closely monitor this ongoing situation and take the necessary actions to avoid any prolonged inhalation of any significant smoke from this fire. Please stay tuned to local law enforcement and fire department officials for further information or any evacuation orders."

There are now 254 personnel supporting this incident and more resources continue to arrive. The primary fire suppression agencies are the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and North Carolina Forest Service. Local fire departments are being joined by other state fire departments to support structure protection. The structure protection group is staging at the Mattamuskeet High School on U.S. Highway 264 in Swan Quarter. The incident is also using personnel and equipment from other southeastern state and federal agencies, including Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Additionally, private industry is assisting fire managers with incident logistical needs. Cisco Systems Inc. has deployed a Network Emergency Response Vehicle to the Ponzer Incident Command Post. This mobile communications platform is providing the N.C. Incident Management Team both telephone and wireless communication systems and on-site technical support.  

Officials advise that because of the peat burning underground, it could be weeks or months before the fire is completely extinguished.

Additional information on the fire, including photos and maps can be found by visiting the Inciweb (http://inciweb.org/state/34) Web site.

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