Ocracoke may see a long-sought fire break for the island between the village and the National Park Service land as early as the end of March.
Ed Fuller, Cape Hatteras National Seashore district ranger for Ocracoke, confirmed last week that Deputy Superintendent, Daryl Echols, assured him that the Park Service will hire a “marsh-master” cutter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that officials are working now to finalize the agreement by March 15.
Before the end of this month, the marsh grass will be cut to prevent possible wildfires from spreading to the village, Fuller said.
The proposed site would be a swath of marsh grass cut from a point starting at Highway 12 near the last house at the north end of the village. It would continue across the road close to the South Point entrance ramp and arc around the east side of the village to the inlet.
This is something that folks involved in the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department have been seeking for several years, and has been pushed by Dick Jacoby, president of the fire company, and his wife, Janey.
Not getting the fire break cut was one of Kenny Ballance’s regrets when he retired from his job as district ranger on Ocracoke last October. Newly elected Hyde County Commissioner John Fletcher of Ocracoke also noted in a June interview that getting a fire break was one of his priorities.
The difficulty in getting this done has been obtaining the right piece of equipment that can cut the watery marsh grass.
“This is a rig that can go in that kind of environment,” Fuller said.
The break would not cut any trees but would create a buffer between the many cedar trees on the island and the village.
“When we talk about a fire break here, we don’t want to cut the trees back,” Janey Jacoby said.
The break would halt a fire’s march, protecting the village if cedar trees caught fire.
“When cedar trees catch on fire, they explode,” she continued. “Oak trees don’t burn as quickly.”
Dick concurred noting, “Even when cedars are green, they’re like a can of turpentine. When they go brown it’s even worse.”
Janey hopes the break that is cut will be as large as 50 feet wide.
“The one they are cutting at Fort Raleigh (National Historic Site) is 30- to 50-feet wide,” she explained. “Just getting a fire break would be a great asset to the comm
The National Fire Service gave Ocracoke Island a high fire rating a few years back, Janey continued.
“We are jammed up with a lot of wooden houses in the cedar trees,” she said. Then there are people grilling on their decks under and around those cedar trees, she said.
Also, Ernie Doshier, OVFD vice president, noted that a fire between the Beachcomber Campground and the airport a few years back started from sparks off one of the power lines.
The OVFD recently purchased a ladder truck, which will be a big asset, allowing firefighters to get above a fire and spray down on it, Dick Jacoby said. This truck also allows the company to spray an extremely hot fire from farther away with a remotely operated hose.
Having this truck will help the island get a better fire rating for insurance purposes, Janey added.
In the meantime, the OVFD is poised to break ground on a new, larger firehouse on Irvin Garrish Highway, where site preparation has been completed. OVFD officials are hoping that a new home for their five trucks will give the company a better rating which may help reduce homeowners’ insurance policies.
Plans for the new building have been finalized and the OVFD accepted the proposal from the Premiere Construction Company from Kitty Hawk.
The OVFD is planning its annual Firemen’s Ball fundraiser, for Saturday, May 25, at the Ocracoke Community Center.
The day will start off with a pig pickin’ (last year 600 were served), followed by a silent and a live auction, and finishing off with live music by three great local favorites — The Ocracoke Rockers, The Aaron Caswell Band and The Dune Dogs.