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Several local residents question handling of Evans Road fire

By Staff
Residents think EMT operation has become a ‘circus’
By GREG KATSKI
Staff Writer
Long-time Ponzer residents have noticed a striking difference in the handling of the Evans Road fire and the Allen Road fire of 1985.
Many members of the township have spent their lives on the sprawling family farms that line the Hyde County community. They have also learned how to combat the peat soil fires “efficiently,” according to local farmer Wade Hubers.
Hubers has dealt with many ground fires in Hyde County over the years.
The Allen Road fire, started in the spring of 1985, was fought “with much less resources,” Hubers said.
That fire burned approximately 92,000 acres, according to Ponzer volunteer firefighter Lynn Clayton. He attributes the massive spread of that fire to “driving, 30 to 40 mile-per-hour winds,” and not a lack of local resources.
The dry air of the early spring season also helped drive the fire.
Although to date the Evans Road fire has burned 41,060 acres, or about half the acreage of the Allen Road fire, the cost to combat it is in the millions. The cost of the fire to date is $3.86 million and does not include the cost to local cooperating agencies.
Hubers thinks that money is being wasted by the forest service due to flawed planning.
There are 514 people working on the fire now and the majority of them come from outside Hyde or neighboring counties.
Huber thinks the only people that know how to fight a ground fire are those that “have lived through it.”
He believes that bringing in firefighters and forest rangers from outside the region and state has added to the confusion.
Clayton thinks that state and national officials can learn from the Evans Road fire.
Clayton, who was 27 years old at the time of the Allen Road fire, sees a lot of physical, if not organizational, similarities between the two fires.
The Allen Road fire burned a significant amount of farmland, according to Armstrong, who was 13 years old at the time.
Although the N.C. Forest Service was on hand during the Allen Road fire, most of the fighting was done by private contractors, according to Armstrong.
Local farmers, such as Huber, worked alongside forest rangers to protect their land during previous fires.
Local farmers used tractors and bulldozers to dig trenches and flood the Allen Road fire, similar to practices now used by the N.C. Forest Service.
The efforts were mainly localized, according to Armstrong.
The increased presence of state and national personnel on the fire has led to paranoia among local residents, according to Huber.
According to Armstrong, there was much more reason for concern over smoke inhalation during the Allen Road fire. The smoke was “much worse than it is now,” he said.
Locals could “smell smoke for over a year,” according to Clayton. “We might have gone six months without the smell, then some place would get stirred up,” he said.
According to official reports, the Evans Road fire is 60 percent contained, but Clayton cautions any optimism.
Armstrong agreed with the assessment.