June 11,  2008

Mainland wildfire continues to grow and plague the Outer Banks


The Evans Road wildfire grew to 40,195 acres or about 63 square miles on Tuesday, June 10.  The blaze covers portions of Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties in Eastern North Carolina and is presently the largest active wildfire in the United States, according to the inter-agency incident team assigned to the area.

The acrid smoke and falling ash from the fire has plagued the Outer Banks since shortly after the fire was started by a lightning strike on June 1.  Earlier this week, it was confined mostly to northern Hatteras Island, from Buxton north.  Travelers on Highway 12 reported that at times, the smoke was so thick that they couldn’t see the Bonner Bridge until they were almost on it.

By Wednesday morning, June 11, the smoke has moved south and lay in a thick blanket over southern Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Alex Hodges, a family nurse practitioner who owns Hatteras Island Family Medicine in Frisco, says that the smoke in the air should not affect normal, healthy adults and children.

However, she added that people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma or emphysema, should “absolutely” avoid exposure to the smoky air, stay indoors in air-conditioning, and be sure to take their prescribed medications.  If symptoms, such as shortness of breath, get worse, she said, patients should contact their health-care provider.

Most of the 4,504-acre increase in the fire’s size occurred Tuesday afternoon as it continued to advance farther north and east within the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. At its current rate of spread, the fire is predicted to reach the northeastern boundary of the refuge within the next 12 hours.

On Wednesday morning, the fire was still only 40 percent contained, according to the incident team, and 20 miles of containment lines still need to be constructed or improved. Crowning, torching, spotting, and backing fire with extreme flame lengths were observed Tuesday. Winds were erratic and gusty due to the passing of a front and a thunderstorm that occurred near the fire. Yesterday’s storm did create several spot fires that were controlled within a few hours.

However, there was a second evacuation of 50 homes within the Waterway Landing Community south of New Lake because of a spot fire to the south of New Lake. This fire was contained and extinguished. Some families did use the evacuation shelter set up at the Belhaven Fire Department. This shelter is being run by Red Cross and supported by Beaufort County Emergency Services.  On Wednesday morning, the evacuation order for Waterway Landing Community was still in place.

Wednesday’s fire behavior will pose a new set of challenges for firefighters as northeast winds will push the fire towards the western and southwestern containment lines. The fire will also slowly back to the north and east within the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. These northeast winds will also transport ground-level smoke towards other North Carolina towns and cities, such as Washington and Greenville.  The rain that fell on the fire yesterday was beneficial but not enough to significantly decrease the fire for more than 24 hours.  

There are now 341 personnel supporting the incident, and more resources continue to arrive from other states. The primary fire suppression agencies are the U.S. Fish and 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.

The costs of fighting the fire have increased to $1,384,015 and do not fully include operational costs incurred by cooperating local and federal agencies. 

By afternoon on Wednesday, winds had shifted to the northeast and cleared much of the smoke from Hatteras and Ocracoke.  Winds are predicted to stay northeast through Friday. However, by the weekend, the prevailing winds be again be south/southwest, which could bring the smoke back to the Outer Banks.

Officials advise that because of the heavy beds of peat in the area that continue to burn underground, it could be weeks or months before the fire is completely extinguished.

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


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