June 20, 2012
Smoke from new wildfire drifted over Hatteras today


For many on Hatteras Island, it was déjà vu when they woke up this morning to the heavy, acrid smell of smoke hanging in the air.

At this time last year, the Outer Banks was dealing with the smoke from the Pains Bay Fire on the Dare County mainland.

Now we have what is called the Dad Fire, a wildfire that is burning in the Croatan National Forest in Craven County between Havelock and New Bern, which is southwest of the Outer Banks.

The fire started on Thursday, June 14, with a prescribed burn that smoldered and erupted again as the wind whipped up on Saturday, according to U.S. Forest Service information officer, Donald Simon.

This afternoon Simon said the fire was burning on 21,330 acres, mostly in the Sheep Ridge Wilderness area, and was 25 percent contained.

Smoke from the fire headed toward the Outer Banks today when the wind shifted to the southwest and blew it northeast. The wind will remain southwest for several days, which means we can continue to expect intermittent smoke.

About 100 firefighters and other personnel are involved in the firefighting effort, including employees of the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Defense, and other agencies.

Simon said that the firefighters have containment lines surrounding the fire, and it is contained in the national forest.  It is not a threat, he said, to the public and no buildings are in danger.

Not that the perimeter has been established around the fire, Simon said.  Firefighters will burn back into the main fire, using up the fuel it would need to spread.

Smoke from the fire has drifted as far as Raleigh, according to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which has issued air quality alerts at varying levels for all of eastern North Carolina.

A red alert – unhealthy -- was issued for the areas closest to the fire, and an orange – unhealthy for sensitive groups -- for some other counties, including part of Hyde. The rest of eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks, is in the gray zone, which means intermittent smoke.

“The forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include the elderly, children, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion,” according to a press release from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Controlled burns are done regularly in the Croatan National Forest, according to Simon, and are common in other areas, including the Outer Banks.  These prescribed fires use up fuel and help prevent more catastrophic wildfires.

The fire was carefully monitored, Simon said, and everything seemed pretty good until Saturday when the winds increased.

Actually, all of last week from about Wednesday through Sunday was extremely windy on the coast as a low pressure hung off North Carolina, sending brisk northeast winds across the area.

Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., called for an investigation into the wildfire.

In a letter to Kristin Bail, Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service for the state of North Carolina, Congressman Jones offered his full assistance to help the Forest Service get the fire under control.  However, once the fire is contained, he called for a comprehensive investigation of the policies and decisions that led to the incident.

“Our number one priority is to get the fire contained,” said Jones.  “However, I share the concerns of many Eastern North Carolinians as to how this poorly planned ‘prescribed burn’ is negatively affecting tourism, public health, and taxpayers who are being asked to pick up the tab to fight a fire that could have been avoided.”

Simon said it is customary for the Forest Service to do action analyses on all fires, and that such a review would happen for the Dad Fire.

Updated information on air quality alerts is available at www.ncair.org.

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.