Some crops are feeling the heat

Published 4:23 am Saturday, June 14, 2008

By Staff
Fire threatens farmland, but it has claimed little
Staff Writer
Although nearly 40,000 acres in three eastern North Carolina counties have been consumed by wildfire since June 1, only 20 acres of crops have been lost to the blaze, according to state forestry officials.
Green corn and other immature crops do not pose a significant threat in terms of the fire spreading, McAlister said. Green fields actually serve as an existing fire break, he said.
The fire ignited at the end of the wheat-growing season. Expansive fields full of ripe wheat are ready sources of fuel for the fire, McAlister said. If a brand or ember were to be carried into a wheat field, the surface fire has the potential of spreading rapidly, especially in high winds. To prevent that from happening, the forest service has asked some farmers to prematurely harvest their wheat crops.
Frank Winslow, Washington County’s agricultural extension agent, said harvesting the wheat early isn’t a bad thing because the crop was dried more quickly by the recent heat wave.
No farmland or crops have been lost in Washington County, according to Winslow. Tyrrell County has lost less than 100 acres, he said. The portion of Hyde County that has been scorched by the blaze is almost entirely within the boundaries of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
With winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean since Wednesday, the threat of embers catching fields on fire has reached Beaufort County. John Pack, that county’s emergency management coordinator, said that the possibility of field fires west of Evans Road — the fire’s contained western perimeter — has his department on standby to evacuate areas around Belhaven and Pantego.
For farmers who have harvested their wheat, a state-issued burning ban makes it illegal to burn off their fields, one step many farmers take before planting soybeans or other summer crops.
Firefighters working to contain the fire had been successful at checking the fire’s advance westward as of Friday afternoon. The team of at least 473 forestry personnel fighting the blaze concentrated its efforts on the southern and western perimeters, especially along Evans Road on Friday, according to McAlister.
Winds are forecast to swirl back around by today and come again from the south and east, which will begin to push the fire and smoke east into Hyde County and the wildlife refuge.