Smoke blankets southeast as winds fuel more than 30 wildfires

Smoke blankets southeast as winds fuel more than 30 wildfires

10 November 2016

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USA —   With little to no rain in recent weeks and prolonged drought conditions affecting much of the Southeast, a spate of wildfires has broken out across much of the region, sending up a blanket of smoke that covers several states and metro areas, including Atlanta.

With wind gusts of up to 30 mph impacting several of the affected states, firefighters have a new challenge in their battles against the blazes, says meteorologist Chris Dolce.

On Thursday, NASA imagery picked up more than 30 wildfires that have ignited since the Maple Springs Fire in North Carolina started on Nov. 4. The fire has since grown to 3,919 acres.

Firefighters in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida are battling wildfires as dry conditions continue to plague areas that are in much need of rain.

More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires, according to U.S. Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the Southern Region Shardul Raval. About 40 aircraft, including three large air tankers flying out of Chattanooga have been brought in.

Dolce said the wildfires burning in the southern Appalachians are in an area where drought conditions have worsened significantly during the last few months.

And there will be little reprieve from the drought in the near future, he added.

North Carolina

Hundreds of acres have burned in Western North Carolina after dozens of wildfires broke out in recent days, prompting the evacuation of dozens residents in affected areas, according to the Citizen-Times.

The Party Rock Fire in Lake Lure was estimated to be more than 880 acres and was 15 percent contained as of Thursday. Residents in nearly 40 homes have been evacuated.

“It’s a really unique area in Lake Lure — near a bald rock face,” said Tillotson. “The fire started above the bald, and debris has been falling below the surface of the bald.”

Crews are also fighting a 30-acre fire on Rumbling Bald Mountain, which has shut down the Rumbling Bald Climbing Access Area of Chimney Rock State Park.

Limited evacuations were ordered for the Quail Ridge and Huntington Road areas of the Rumbling Bald Resort, according to a statement from Lake Lure’s local government. Emergency personnel is going door to door to evacuate residents.

Officials expected up to 35 homes to be affected, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. A state of emergency was declared late Monday.

On Wednesday, the Lake Lure Fire Department had a structure protection plan in place that includes devoting at least 20 engines to protect structures, reports the Citizen-Times.

The Boteler Fire near Hayesville in Clay County has reportedly consumed more than 3,500 acres and is only about 10 percent contained as of Thursday.

Located northwest of Franklin, the Tellico fire has consumed more than 5,160 acres as of Thursday and is only 10 percent contained. The blaze has prompted a state of emergency in Swain and Macon counties, reports teh Citizen-Times.

The blaze is in the Nantahala National Forest and has prompted the closure of the forest west of Asheville and parts of the Appalachian Trail from Rock Gap to the Nantahala River.

Nearly 350 firefighters were fighting the blazes as of late Sunday.

Many of the fires have been caused by the use of heavy equipment in the woods, one fire official told the newspaper.

“Anything that can generate some heat or a spark, be real careful with it,” he said.

After dozens of fires broke out this week, the state’s Department for Public Health issued a smoke inhalation advisory for the southeastern part of the state due to poor air quality and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a state of emergency, according to Fox News.

According to WKYT, the largest of these fires are burning in Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties. In Harlan County, the worst fires are on Little Shepard’s Tail, where crews had to shut down the road because is was becoming too dangerous, reports LEX 18.

“Trees are falling. Snags are everywhere on top of the line there and falling across the road and stuff. We’re having to go every day and cut snags out and move snags and blow lines out,” said Forestry manager Tim Brown.

Another fire that began Friday in Breathitt County has burned some 3,500 acres and remains uncontained.

Friday morning new restrictions on smoking, campfires and other potential fire hazards went into effect along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, the Associated Press reports. Fireworks will be prohibited and stoves, lanterns and heating devices will be limited. Campfires are only permitted in designated campgrounds and picnic areas where metal fire rings and grills are provided.

Smoking is permitted only in vehicles, buildings or developed recreations sites, or areas cleared at least three feet away from flammable materials.


Dozens of wildfires in Eastern Tennessee have left a blanket of smoke across much of the area.

“We are smoked out here in Cleveland,” Terry McDonald, public affairs officer at the Cherokee National Forest, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Seven firefighters were trapped Tuesday evening in a forest fire west of Kingsport. All seven firefighters were later accounted for and none was injured, Gary Murrell, director of the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency told Fox News.

Nathan Waters, assistant forester of the East Tennessee District, said the wildfires keep cropping up, making conditions difficult for weary firefighters.

“We have been battling fires since well before Halloween,” Waters said. “When you have forest fires it takes a long time to get them out. It wears out the equipment and wears out the people. We are very fortunate compared to the Cumberland District; they have had larger issues.”

One of the largest wildfires is burning on Signal Mountain, along the Tennessee-Georgia border.

Other counties experiencing wildfires include Fentress, Cumberland, Overton, Rhea, Marion, Van Buren, Hamilton and Sequatchie. A fire in the Brimstone Recreation Area was clouding skies near and in the Big South Fork, the newspaper reports.

According to Waters, one firefighter was hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning after working alongside other firefighters to battle a blaze in White County near Sparta.


Hundreds of fires have broken out in Georgia in the past few weeks as drought conditions continue, especially in northern counties. On Thursday, northernly winds drove smoke through the metro Atlanta area.

In Rabun County, authorities are seeking a suspected arsonist that may have purposely started at least five small fires.

According to the Clayton Tribune, the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office is on the lookout for a white male driving a dark blue SUV that was seen in the areas of the Rabun fires.

Two different fires along Tallulah River Road in Rabun County are burning on opposite sides of the road. One is named Rock Mountain, according to the Tribune. The other is Flat Branch. As of late night Wednesday, each fire was estimated at 100 acres.

Firefighters have been battling the Rough Ridge Fire burning in the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee National Forest since Oct. 16 when lightning sparked the blaze.

“The fire continued its upslope run out of the Rough Creek drainage and crossed East Cowpen Trail and is backing downslope towards the west,” states Inciweb. “Smoldering and creeping occurred in area with high shade. Leaf fall is continuing, so reburn potential remains high and expected to continue for the next two weeks.”

According to 11 Alive, wind and continued dry conditions have served as fuel for the wildfire that has exploded to more than 10,300 acres as of Thursday and is only 20 percent contained.

Officials continue to monitor another fire at Lookout Mountain near the Tennessee border that has grown to 175 acres and continues to grow. Although no homes have been evacuated, fire officials are keeping residents abreast of the situation in case evacuations are needed, reports the TV station.

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

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