Wildfire ‘pretty much’ contained

Published 5:27 am Thursday, June 19, 2008

By Staff
Forest Service continues demobilization of forces
Staff Writer
The Evans Road fire is “pretty much in a contained state,” a forestry official said Wednesday.
Smoke from the fire, which has burned more than 41,000 acres in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, could be summer company for parts of eastern North Carolina.
With at least 70 percent of the blaze contained and the remaining 30 percent expected not to spread, the N.C. Forest Service is continuing to demobilize its force in the area of the fire. The team fighting the fire numbered around 350 Wednesday, down from a peak of more than 500 firefighters from across the United States.
The Forest Service has stopped short of cutting firebreaks along 30 percent of the fire’s perimeter — mostly along the fire’s southeastern corner within the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, according to McAlister. Those areas have been too wet to burn or have such a high water table that there is little risk of the type of peat fire the Forest Service has battled at other areas of the blaze, he said.
McAlister predicted the fire’s containment level would stagnate at 70 percent for at least a week until officials are comfortable the fire will not spread through areas without established containment lines.
The threat of flames having diminished, what remains as a major threat is the smoke. The underground peat fire — fuel by the soil’s high content of decayed plant matter — could smolder for months without substantial rainfall, McAlister said.
Byron Haire, a Georgia Forestry Commission ranger who responded to the Evans Road fire, said the smoke would persist as a health issue long after the fire has been contained.
Firefighters are continuing to pump water from Lake Phelps, and possibly from New Lake, to douse the smoldering peat fire from beneath. That effort will cut down on the smoke billowing from the burned area, but it will not stop it completely, according to Haire.
Large swaths of eastern North Carolina continue to be blanketed by smoke from the fire, posing a health threat to residents, especially those with respiratory ailments.
On Wednesday, officials with the N.C. Division of Water Quality issued an advisory for today concerning air pollution in coastal regions of North Carolina as smoke from wildfires continues to drift downwind of the fire. Residents of coastal communities roughly east of Edenton, Plymouth, Belhaven and Morehead City could experience unhealthy air quality depending on wind directions.
Forecasters have predicted Code Red or Code Purple conditions — meaning unhealthy to very unhealthy — for today in the following counties: Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Tyrrell.
In addition, residents of Currituck and Washington counties could experience Code Orange conditions that are unhealthy for sensitive groups such as people with asthma or other respiratory problems.
A map of forecasted smoke-impacted areas can be found at http://www.ncair.org/news/pr/2008/smoke_warning.shtml.