Wildfire in Nantahala National Forest Continues to Grow; 90 Acres, No Containment

A wildfire in the Nantahala National Forest continues to burn without any containment over a week after a lightning strike first sparked it Oct. 23, officials say.

A total of 55 personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and North Carolina Forest Service are working the fire, which burns at 90 acres as of Oct. 31, according to a U.S. Forest Service news release. The fire has been mostly growing to the west and northwest toward Flat Branch and Collett Creek. There has been no containment due to “rugged terrain and limited accessibility,” the U.S. Forest Service said in a social media post.

On Oct. 29, fire behavior “remained minimal with some smoldering and creeping,” the Oct. 30 news release said. Due to dry fuels on the floor such as leaves, smoke was visible from U.S. 74.

A cold front arrived over the fire Oct. 30, “bringing partly cloudy skies, low temperatures, precipitation, and higher humidity, which will decrease fire behavior, growth, and activity over the next 24 hours” an Oct. 31 news release said.

The U.S. Forest Service previously reported the wildfire to have reached 90 acres, but the acreage decreased Oct. 28 after a mapping drone with infrared capabilities flew over the area and provided a more accurate fire perimeter. After continuing to grow over the past three days, the wildfire reached the 90-acre mark on Oct. 31.

“This fire will be on the ground for a while due to the terrain and accessibility issues making it unsafe for direct attack,” Incident Commander Peter Myers said in a news release. “Another factor is that the trees continue to drop their leaves adding to the fuel on the ground. It will take a significant rainfall to make a difference.”

Meteorologist Doug Outlaw with the National Weather Service told the Citizen Times that there is a 30%-40% chance of rain along the North Carolina and Tennessee border near the wildfire late in the day Oct. 30, but only .05 of an inch or less is expected.

“There’s going to be an increase in wind speed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and along with the drought, there’s going to be possibility of wildfires spreading,” Outlaw said.

Wind speeds across Western North Carolina are predicted to increase from 10-to-15 mph on Oct. 30 to 15-to-20 mph with higher gusts that night, Outlaw said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released an updated drought map for North Carolina Oct. 26 that shows severe drought conditions persist in parts of the WNC mountains, causing an increased risk of wildfires like the one burning in Nantahala.

A 20-person hand crew, three engines, two helicopters and one air attack platform are working the fire. Fire crews have established multiple handlines using trails, creeks and existing road system, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Contingency lines have also been set up to back up the primary lines, which helps “increase the probability of fire containment, decrease fire losses and improve firefighter safety,” the release said.

While no structures are currently threatened by the fire, crews are also working within nearby communities to provide structure protection “by clearing leaf debris from around the structures and cutting back overhanging tree branches,” the release said.

On Oct. 30, firefighters continued structure prep in nearby communities by “constructing dozer and handlines around homes and buildings,” the news release said. Crews prepped the areas around structures for placing hose lays, water tanks and pumps. They also “worked on scouting and identifying water sources along Bolden Creek,” an updated release said.

Because falling leaves can cover lines in a matter of hours during this time of year, “crews will continue to strengthen completed containment lines by clearing all leaf litter from the lines.” The firefighters will also work to remove snags, which are standing, dead or dying trees that are potential fuel and pose a safety concern for those working the fire, the updated release said.

The fire has continued to grow since it started Oct. 23 on the top of Collett Ridge, four miles north of Andrews, North Carolina. As of Oct. 31, no structures or humans have been hurt or threatened by the wildfire, the U.S. Forest Service said.

No trails, roads or areas are closed at this time, but the public should avoid the area so fire crews and resources can work safely, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Source : Citizen Times


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