Fire is top story of ’08

Published 6:55 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2008

By Staff
No lives lostduring blazein three counties
Contributing Editor
A wildfire started by lightning and that burned about 42,000 acres in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties is the top story in the Washington Daily News’ Top 10 stories of 2008.
Although the fire burned for weeks, there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries caused by the fire. Health officials did warn people about the dangers of inhaling smoke from the fire.
The fire began June 1 when a lightning strike occurred in a wooded area near Ponzer in Hyde County. Firefighters, including many from the area, battled the blaze for a little more than two months before declaring it contained in early August. Drought and extremely dry conditions made it even more difficult for firefighters to fight the fire, which at one point covered nearly 65 square miles. It cost more than $5 million to fight the fire.
The fire burned above ground. It smoldered underground, where peat served as fuel to keep the blaze burning.
At one point, nearly 500 firefighters, dozens of fire engines and pumping systems taking water out of water sources such as Lake Phelps and canals were employed to battle the wildfire.
At one point in early June, the smoke plume from the wildfire was pushed westward by shifting winds, sending smoke to Washington and points farther west.
The fire forced some evacuations of homes. Some people were forced to leave their homes more than once.
Sleeping on a cot in the Belhaven Volunteer Fire Department building was not something Bob Searle had planned for his first year of retirement.
A resident of Waterway Landing in Hyde County, Searle and his wife, Pamela, evacuated their home two days after the fire began. Hyde County’s emergency management coordinator issued the evacuation order for the small community east of Ponzer around 6 p.m. June 3. It was then that prevailing winds shifted and began pushing the fire and smoke southward, toward Searle’s home. It was the second time in a week the couple and their eight cats had left their home because of the fire.
The fire consumed more than 25,000 acres of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, killing some wild animals and displacing others. Smaller animals were more vulnerable to the fire.
Even with the rash of fatalities among small animals on the refuge, Strawser said then that large animals, including endangered species, remained largely unharmed by the fire.
Those animals included American alligators and red wolves.
Less than 150 acres of crops were lost to the fire or firefighting efforts, according to state forestry officials.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided a grant to help pay some costs incurred by the state in fighting the fire. The grant came after Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties on June 6.
Firefighting efforts combined with rain from thunderstorms and the remnants of tropical storms helped bring the fire under control.