SALUDA Fire blazed up and down Warrior Mountain on Sunday as firefighters worked to stop a 275-acre forest fire that threatened a dozen mountain homes.
A helicopter loomed above, spraying water on the smoggy mountain on U.S. 176 between Saluda and Tryon, where the fire drove residents from their houses to a nearby American Red Cross shelter in Columbus.
The blaze was the largest and latest in a string of wildfires in the past week fueled by continued dry weather and high winds, including more than 20 known fires in Western North Carolina over the weekend.
Its so dry now that it doesnt take much to get one going, said Ted Duncan, public information officer with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources, who spent Sunday afternoon driving up and down Warrior Mountains narrow gravel road.
The cause of the large fire was still under investigation Sunday, Duncan said.
Several area fire departments from Polk County and nearby South Carolina, along with a Forest Service plane and helicopter, fought the fire since Friday, Duncan said.
By noon on Sunday, the fire was controlled and no structure damage or injuries were reported. But it could be days before some of the larger fallen oaks burn out completely.
A dry season
With droughtlike conditions expected to stretch through the spring, forecasters say this is only the beginning of what will most likely be a busy season for fires in North Carolina forests and fields.
State foresters are nervously noting the dryness of forest floor fuels like pine needles and weather models that predict a substantial rainfall shortage by late spring. March to May is the peak wildfire season in North Carolina.
The National Weather Service last week issued a wildfire warning for 31 central and southeastern counties across the state, urging residents not to burn vegetative debris. The area stretches from the Triangle and Cumberland County westward into the mountains.
North Carolina has seen 1,359 wildfires so far this year, according to the N.C. Forest Service. Those fires have burned 3,645 acres. On Saturday, the Forest Service responded to 140 wildfires that burned 551 acres. Fires burned in numerous counties over the weekend, including McDowell and Buncombe counties.
In Madison County alone, 15 wildfires had been reported since Saturday morning, said Joey Fowler, county dispatcher and firefighter with the N.C. Forest Service.
Firefighters on Sunday were fighting an 8-acre blaze in the Metcalf Creek area, near Mars Hill, Fowler said. No structures were involved.
This is the most (fires) this year, but its not really unusual, said Fowler, who expected more fires than what hes seen so far. Its dry out there. Ive never seen it this dry.
A fire in Buncombe County burned a barn on Peppercorn Trail, just off Riceville Road, said Riceville Fire Department assistant chief Jason Willix. The fire started in the barn and spread about a half acre, Willix said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation Sunday.
In Haywood County, Samuel Lipham watched as a helicopter swooped in and scooped water out of his familys Canton pond to fight a nearby wildfire.
His father, Neal, saw smoke from their Newfound property and speculated a bonfire, Lipham said.
It turned out to be a forest fire, Samuel Lipham said.