Monster Linville Gorge fire burns unchecked

Monster Linville Gorge fire burns unchecked

18 November 2013

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USA — U.S. Forest Service officials say it may be Friday before a massive wildfire in Linville Gorge is contained.

Rain over the weekend helped slow the week-old blaze in Pisgah National Forest north of Morganton in Burke County, but it still engulfed 2,275 acres Monday, Forest Service spokeswoman Deborah Walker said. Strong winds today and dry conditions predicted through Thursday will make bringing the fire under control more difficult, she said.

“We got about a half an inch in the gorge (Sunday),” Walker said. “That’s not a tremendous amount, but it did help. The unfortunate part is we’re going into a dry period this week.”

The fire was about 40 percent contained Monday, which was unchanged from the weekend.

Nearly 200 firefighters were working the blaze Monday, double the number at the site last week. Firefighters are focusing on building containment lines, Walker said.

“We hope within the next couple of days to complete our containment lines,” she said.

Firefighters hope to have the blaze under control by Friday, she said.

Federal crews from across the country are involved in fighting the fire, including a 20-person crew from the Oklahoma Bureau of Indian Affairs that joined the effort Monday. N.C. Forest Service personnel also are involved, Walker said.

No injuries have been reported. One structure, a hunting cabin, is in danger from the fire but is not immediately threatened, Walker said.

A number of Forest Service roads in the area remain closed, including Rose Creek, Rich Cove, Table Rock and Back-Irish Creek roads.

A dozen trails also are closed, including Pinch In, Conley Cove, Linville Gorge, Brushy Ridge, Spence Ridge, Shortoff, Little Table Rock, Devil’s Hole, Jonas Ridge, Rock Jock, Hawksbill and Pinnacle.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but they said they believe it started Nov. 11 in the Table Rock area on the east side of the gorge. The blaze wasn’t spotted until Nov. 12 and has since spread into the gorge and has reached the Linville River at the bottom, Walker said.

Firefighting efforts are hampered by extremely steep terrain, and because Linville Gorge is a federally designated wilderness area, there are no roads into the area.

“It is very steep, rugged country,” Walker said. “It is a wilderness, which means road access is pretty much nonexistent. So getting equipment in there is difficult. Trying to construct containment lines in that kind of country is very dangerous.”

Linville Gorge has been the site of a number of large fires over the years. A wildfire in 2007 burned 5,400 acres.

Besides the steep terrain and lack of road access, other factors that make fires there difficult to contain include thousands of dead hemlock trees lost to the woolly adelgid infestation that add fuel, Walker said. And the gorge is in a slight rain shadow, getting less precipitation than surrounding areas.

She said she could not discuss a definite cause of the fire, but investigators want to talk with people who were camping at the Table Rock Picnic Area on Nov. 11.

A reward may be offered for substantial information regarding this investigation.

he Linville Gorge area below Table Rock Mountain burns in this photo taken last week by Lynn Willis. / Lynn Willis / Special to the Citizen-Times


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