CAUSE IDENTIFIED: Fire the result of mowing operation

Published 9:03 pm Sunday, April 24, 2016

INCIWEB AFTERMATH: Officials warn drivers of damaged power poles and guard rails along U.S. Highway 264.

AFTERMATH: Officials warn drivers of damaged power poles and guard rails along U.S. Highway 264.

HYDE COUNTY — Law enforcement identified the cause of the Whipping Creek Fire on Sunday night, calling it a “right-of-way maintenance operation.”

A press release stated: “Mowing or bush-hogging of fine flashy fuels such as dead grass or leaves can be a source of ignition when stones or other metal debris is struck by the mowing blades.”

The Whipping Creek Fire has spread to almost 13,800 acres, but moisture from the storms on Friday and Saturday are expected to help stall fire growth at least until Monday, according to a press release from North Carolina Forest Service.

As of Sunday, the fire was at 48-percent containment.

The state Department of Transportation also reopened the 30-mile stretch between Engelhard and Stumpy Point along U.S. Highway 264 after crews completed a water operation Sunday evening.

Two CL-415 air tankers were called in to dump water from the Alligator River on the northeastern fire perimeter, starting at 9 a.m. Sunday and continuing into the evening. The CL-415s will drop 2,200 gallons of water on the fire every six minutes, according to a Sunday press release.

Bill Swartley, public information officer for the Incident Command Post Fire Information Center, said the fire appeared to be moving back from the edges of the highway over the weekend, but it is possible for NCDOT to reclose the road due to dense smoke.

“Increased fire or smoke behavior along the highway may cause fire officials and local law enforcement to close the highway at any time during this period,” the release stated. “Drivers should also be looking ahead for any utility poles or power lines that may have fallen on the highway. Remember to treat all downed power lines as ‘live wires’ and keep a safe distance.”

Fire crews expect the blaze to grow once again Monday due to forecasted sunny skies and low humidity, according to the release.

The Whipping Creek Fire has been active since April 18, and its spread fluctuated throughout last week. Crews are working all day to contain it, according to Swartley, and night operations were set to begin Friday. The operation has 143 firefighters and managers assigned to the fire.

The areas affected include N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission game lands, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Air Force property and the Nature Conservancy.

According to incident reports, crews hope to have the fire contained by the first week of May.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality lists its Monday air quality report in Hyde and Dare counties as “Code Orange,” meaning the air could be unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children and the elderly.

Nearby communities are still under no threat from the fire.

For the latest updates, follow