Fire crews thin as blaze comes under control

Published 5:12 am Wednesday, June 18, 2008

By Staff
Forestry officials say pumping began on time
Staff Writer
PONZER — As firefighters continue to contain the Evans Road fire, the team working to quell the blaze in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties — which stood at 514 Monday — is being scaled back slightly.
With the blaze 70 percent contained Tuesday, forestry officials said the downsizing is normal.
As of Tuesday morning, the team had been reduced to 465 members of the N.C. Forest Service. By 7:30 p.m., that number had dropped to 335 forest service personnel.
Some of the several hundred volunteer firefighters from across North Carolina who responded to relieve local fire departments and provide structure protection have also gone home, according to forest service officials. Some of the tractor-plow units the forest service is using to create fire breaks have also been returned to their home bases — 23 are still working in the area of the fire down from a peak of 36.
The fire has been burning since lighting struck a tree on private land near Ponzer on June1. In recent days, local residents and volunteer firefighters have criticized the time it took the forest service to begin dumping water on the fire, considering the fire’s proximity to Lake Phelps and New Lake.
Haire said the forest service followed established protocol regarding the pumping operation — which is currently running around the clock. Thirty-five pumps are transporting 132 million gallons of water per day into burning areas in an attempt to extinguish smoldering peat from beneath. For that operation to begin, the perimeters of the fire near the lake had to be secured, Haire said.
In coming days, firefighting crews will continue to shore up containment lines around the fire, focusing on the eastern and northeaster perimeters where the fire is not yet contained. The pumping operation will continue to flood canals surrounding the burning area as other are moved from sufficiently wet areas to areas that continue to smolder.
Some crews along Evans Road at the southeastern perimeter of the fire are awaiting orders to begin mop-up operations, which involves sending firefighters into the fire zone with hoses to extinguish smoldering hotspots. Though forestry officials are optimistic they will soon get a handle on the blaze, Haire said it is unlikely they will be able to completely extinguish the ground fire.