Firefighters make progress in NC wildfire

Firefighters make progress in NC wildfire

13June 2008

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Firefighters battling a massive wildfire in eastern North Carolina hustled Saturday to take advantage of a shift in the winds near the blaze, which has been burning for almost two weeks and sending smoke into neighboring states.

Winds are now blowing lightly to the northeast, giving crews more time to work on containment lines for the fire, which has burned more than 40,000 acres, or upward of 62 square miles, in and around the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, said Dean McAlister, a spokesman at the incident command center for the fire.

Delaware officials say smoke from the North Carolina fire, as well as another wildfire along the North Carolina-Virginia line, has prompting calls from residents in southern Delaware and the Maryland Eastern Shore. No wildfires have been reported in Delaware, said State police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Whitemarsh.

A wildfire in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles Virginia and North Carolina, prompted a smoke advisory Saturday for much of the Norfolk, Va. area.

More than 150 firefighters were attempting to contain the wind-fueled fire located primarily in the Virginia portion of the refuge. The fire, which started Monday, has burned 1,438 acres and wiped out parts of a project to restore Atlantic white cedar trees.

In North Carolina, Firefighters are using existing roads and canals in the areas to act as fire breaks. One of the most important roads is N.C. Highway 94. If the fire jumps past the road, it would threaten a number of homes and structures and become much tougher to control, authorities said.

There also is farmland near the highway, which could cause the fire to rapidly spread. “Unharvested wheat in the fields is a tinderbox waiting to go off,” McAlister said.

The weather should continue to help. Forecasters said the light winds should continue through Saturday, then thundershowers are possible Sunday, which could dump an inch of rain in the area. It wouldn’t be enough to extinguish the blaze, but could buy crews even more time to build containment lines, McAlister said.

The shift in winds has the smoke from the fire drifting toward the Outer Banks and away from more heavily populated areas.

“The folks who came to the coast this weekend after dealing with all the smoke this week in Raleigh and Durham are having to deal with it on the beach too,” McAlister said.

Areas north and east of the fire, including Edenton and Elizabeth City, remain under a Code Purple air quality warning because of the smoke. It is the most severe air pollution warning the state has ever issued. It advises the elderly, children and those with some health problems to avoid all outdoor physical activity.

The fire started June 1 from lightning strikes on private land. The blaze has burned mostly refuge land. No significant injuries have been reported, and no structures have burned. The wildfire is about 40 percent contained.

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