State investigators have announced that a grass mowing operation on the shoulder of U.S. 264 on the near the Dare-Hyde county line accidentally sparked the Whipping Creek wildfire on Monday, April 18.
At the same time, fire managers announced that the highway, which had been closed off and on for much of the past week, has reopened to traffic.
The North Carolina Forest Service said in a news release that maintenance along the right-of-way resulted in ignition that started the fire that now covers 15,449 acres and is 54 percent contained.
“Mowing or bush-hogging of fine flashy fuels, such as dead grass or leaves, can be a source of ignition when stones or other metal debris is struck by the mowing blades,” according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service news release.
U.S. 264 between Stumpy Point in Dare County and Engelhard in Hyde County was reopened to traffic today, causing motorists to avoid a long detour through Columbia. Though the fire is burning in a remote area of public and private lands, including the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, some Hyde residents use the route regularly to travel to Dare County for work or other reasons.
“In days to come, increased fire or smoke behavior along the highway may cause fire officials and local law enforcement to close the highway at any time,” fire managers said in a news release.
The NCDOT maintains a website that overviews road openings and closures on a real-time basis that can be accessed at: http://tims.ncdot.gov/tims/RegionSummary.aspx?re=8.
Fire managers recommend that drivers check the NCDOT website before traveling this route. Residents and visitors traveling U.S. 264 should be aware that firefighters and their equipment will be working along the highway and adjust their speed accordingly. Drivers should also be looking ahead for any utility poles or power lines that may have fallen on the highway. Remember to treat all downed power lines as “live wires” and keep a safe distance.
The highway was closed for much of Sunday while two CL-415 “Super Scooper” aircraft worked in the area. The aircraft scooped water from the Alligator River and dumped it on the wildfire. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service the two Cl-415s made 126 rounds and dropped 203,112 gallons of water to strengthen fire control lines.
Today, firefighters continue to construct and improve containment lines to support and monitor the fire perimeter for flare-ups. Fire crews continue to monitor weather and fuel conditions for their daily planning of suppression tactics.
The incident now has 153 firefighters and fire managers assigned to the fire, primarily from the North Carolina Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
‘Super Scooper’ aircraft join fight against Whipping Creek Fire
Firefighters continue to battle Whipping Creek fire
Driven by yesterday’s gusty winds, Whipping Creek fire continues to grow
Mainland wildfire doubled in size overnight