Smoke the bigger problem as wildfire is contained

Smoke the bigger problem as wildfire is contained

30 June 2011

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USA — State fire officials said motorists should expect a lot of smoke on I-40 and U.S. 17 this Fourth of July weekend.

Between burnouts — or controlled burns to rob a wildfire of its fuel — and smoldering on the interior of the fire, a lot of smoke was produced today. Officials expect more of the same for the next several days, and possibly for weeks to come.

Officials at Albert J. Ellis Airport in Richlands said smoke had caused several delays and cancellations this week.

A visible column of smoke rising from the area is due to the burning of previously unburned vegetation within the fire perimeter and is not threatening established outer perimeter fire lines, forestry spokesman Brain Haines said.

Firefighters said today they were concentrating efforts on trying to contain the northern end of a huge wildfire that has consumed more than 30,000 acres of woodland in the Holly Shelter Game Lands.

“We conducted a 15-acre burnout in the northwest area to help with containment lines there,” N.C. Forestry Spokeswoman Diane Steltz said.

The fire began June 19 with a lightning strike to dry brush in the drought-stricken area. Fueled by southern breezes, the fire continues to grow as firefighters establish control lines around its northern perimeter.

After burnouts to slow the blaze’s advance toward populated areas along U.S. 17 in the Hampstead area, firefighters said they believe the fire — which is still considered 68 percent contained — is done for on the south end.

Now it is just a matter of containing the fire, reinforcing lines and watching for flare ups, Haines said.

He said firefighters were cleaning up the lines on the north end near Shaken Creek where a burnout had been conducted.

Pumping fire around the fire, the standard way of battling a wildfire, is not a real option because the fire is moving underground in the peat soil, fire officials said, adding the fire, once contained on its outer edges is likely to produce smoke indefinitely or until the area is soaked with several inches of rainfall.

As of this afternoon there were 189 firefighters on the scene.

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