Horton Fire 100 Percent Contained Friday at 1,450 Acres, Burn Ban Lifted in WNC

Published Friday, December 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

Compiled by Jesse Wood

Burn Ban Lifted in WNC

Fire experts with the N.C. Forest Service say recent rains have helped to reduce fire danger in the North Carolina mountains, prompting the agency to lift the ban on open burning for 32 counties on Friday.

The burn ban has been lifted in these counties: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.

However, the Piedmont received significantly less rain and fire experts are less comfortable with fuel conditions there, so the burn ban will remain in effect for the following 15 counties: Anson, Caswell, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Stanly, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin.

“The N.C. Forest Service has noted that not all areas received the soaking rain needed to fully mitigate fuel conditions,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “They would like some additional time to assess fire conditions in the Piedmont counties currently under the ban.”

The N.C. Forest Service continues to evaluate the need for the ban daily, Troxler said.

No new burn permits will be issued in the 15 Piedmont counties until the ban is lifted. In counties where the ban has been lifted, people wanting to burn debris will need to reapply for a permit. For more information, contact Brian Haines, public information officer with the N.C. Forest Service, at 919-857-4828.

Here is more information about the ban on open burning and other precautions in place:

The ban prohibits all open burning, regardless of whether a permit was issued. All burning is prohibited if it is 100 feet or more from an occupied dwelling.

Many counties across the state are imposing their own local ordinances prohibiting burning within that 100 feet, so residents should call their local fire marshal before engaging in any burning activities.

People in violation of the ban will be assessed a $100 fine and risk violating air quality regulations and local ordinances. Outdoor burning is also prohibited in areas covered by Code Orange or Code Red air quality forecasts.

Open burning includes burning leaves, branches and other plant material. In all cases, it is illegal to burn trash, lumber, tires, newspapers, plastics or other non-vegetative materials.

The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation is not permitting campfires and open cooking fires at any of its parks west of Interstate 95. South Mountains State Park remains closed due to wildfire activity. Chimney Rock State Park has reopened except for the Rumbling Bald climbing access. Before visiting, check park conditions at www.ncparks.gov/.

The U.S. Forest Service is not allowing campfires anywhere in the backcountry on federal park land, even for cooking. Campers will have to use camp stoves for cooking in the backcountry. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc.

The National Park Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy also have imposed fire restrictions along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from U.S. Route 33 in Shenandoah National Park to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia. These fire restrictions include the NPS lands around McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs in Virginia. The A.T. is currently closed from Dicks Creek Gap/U.S. 76 in Georgia to the Nantahala River/U.S. 19/U.S. 74 in North Carolina. Up-to-date information can be found at www.appalachiantrail.org/trailupdates.

The burn ban was issued for North Carolina’s 25 westernmost counties on Nov. 7. An additional 22 counties were added Nov. 21 as drought conditions worsened in the mountains and spread into the Piedmont. Wildfires have burned more than 73,000 acres in Western North Carolina this fall.

Horton Fire 100 Percent Contained at 1,450 Acres

Dec. 2. 2016. The Horton fire is 100% contained at 1,450 acres. Despite the complexity of the Horton Fire, there were no injuries sustained by emergency responders throughout the duration of this incident. As crews travel home today, fire managers continue to emphasize safety. “We want all our responders to make it safely home to their families,” said Incident Commander Rodney Weeks.

The North Idaho Type 3 Incident Management Team will transfer command of the fire back to local management tomorrow. Local firefighters will continue to monitor the fire until it reaches full controlled status. Smoke from deep pockets of heat within containment lines may be visible for several day but is not expected to pose a threat.

The North Idaho Type 3 Incident Management Team received remarkable cooperation from the community and from local, state, and federal agencies. The support was a major factor in helping firefighters contain the Horton Fire

The Watauga County burn ban is still in effect. The ban that has been in effect since November 7 prohibits outdoor open flames and cancels any burning permits.

Horton Fire will be posted through today on HortonFire.blogspot.com, Twitter @FireHorton, and on the Watauga County Emergency Management Facebook page. The Horton Fire information line (828-201-2885) will be active through 5:00 p.m. today.


Dec. 1, 2016. The Horton fire is 95 percent contained and 1,450 acres. There are approximately 50 resources on the fire. Over three inches of rain have helped firefighters extinguish hot spots. Although the rain significantly cooled surface heat, more moisture is necessary to reach deep-seated pockets of heat that hold out in stump holes. Steep terrain, hidden hot spots and snags still pose hazards to firefighters mopping up hot spots.

Fire managers developed a rehabilitation plan with North Carolina State Forest Service for the Horton Fire area. This plan involves, to the extent possible, returning the landscape that has been modified during firefighting operations to its original state.  

The Watauga County burn ban is still in effect. The ban that has been in effect since November 7 prohibits outdoor open flames and cancels any burning permits.

The Incident Command Post has moved to the Blowing Rock Fire Department. Information for Horton Fire will be posted through Friday on HortonFire.blogspot.com, Twitter @FireHorton, and on the Watauga County Emergency Management Facebook page. The Horton Fire information line (828-201-2885) will be active through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, December 2.


N.C. Emergency Management tweeted this afternoon: 

“Rain today will help #ncwildfires but not put them all out. Fire Danger remains HIGH for coming days, weeks. Burn ban still in place. Be safe.” 


Tuesday Update: Rain Expected To Exterminate Much of Subsurface Heat

The Horton fire area has received over 3/4” of rain with more on the way. The rain brings much needed moisture to the area. Fire managers plan to reassess the containment percentage tomorrow. The rain is expected to exterminate much of the subsurface heat; however, additional heat may still exist in deep pockets.

Dirt roads in the Horton Fire area are going to be unusually slick with all the rain. Please use extra caution when navigating these roads.

Fire managers are beginning to assess a rehabilitation plan for the Horton Fire area. To the extent possible, they want to return the landscape, that has been modified during firefighting operations, to its original state.  

The Incident Command Post will move to the Blowing Rock Fire Department tonight to allow the Laurel Fork Baptist Church to hold their Wednesday night service. “Our team is incredibly grateful to the Laurel Fork Baptist Church for their support and welcome,” said Incident Commander Rodney Weeks.

Starting today, Horton fire information will be sent out once a day in the morning on the Watauga County Emergency Management Facebook page, on Twitter @FireHorton, and at HortonFire.blogspot.com. The Horton Fire information line 828-201-2885 will be active through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, December 2.

To see more information on fires across the state, including info about the Gatlinburg fire, click here: http://ncjic.blogspot.com/


Monday Morning AM Update: 85 Percent of 1,450-acre Contained

Back burning along Dugger Fire Tower Rd New Jersey Fire Service Photo: Bill Hamilton, Nov 23

Back burning along Dugger Fire Tower Rd
New Jersey Fire Service
Photo: Bill Hamilton, Nov 23

Firefighters on the Horton Fire had a good night. Ample wind was received to test the fire lines. “A lot of great work on the ground is evident in the fire lines holding so well,” said Incident Commander Rodney Weeks.

More winds are expected tonight along with some much needed moisture. Incident objectives today continue to focus on safety for emergency responders and the public. The Horton Fire is 85% contained and at 1,450 acres. 

The Incident Command Post will move to the Blowing Rock Fire Department on Tuesday evening, November 29, to allow the Laurel Fork Baptist Church to hold their Wednesday night service.

For now, updates and pictures will continue to be posted on the Watauga County Emergency Management Facebook page, on Twitter @FireHorton, and at HortonFire.blogspot.com. The Horton Fire information line 828-201-2885 will be active through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, December 2.

Latest Update on Friday, Mid-Morning

Click to enlarge

Command of the fire transitioned to Rodney Weeks’ Type 3 North Idaho Incident Management Team at 7:00 a.m. This transition provides a much needed break for local fire management and allows them to be available for any new fire starts.

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Sunrise Over the Horton Fire on Friday morning.

The Horton Fire remains at 65 percent contained and is approximately 1,408 acres. Firefighters provided fire patrols throughout the night. Hot spots were detected south of the Reynolds Parkway on the north end of the fire. Crews are mopping up that area and monitoring it closely. Smoke is significantly affecting visibility from Watson Road up to the Dugger Fire Tower Road. This smoke is generated from fuels burning inside the fire area.

Wind gusts up to 30 mph are expected tonight through the weekend prompting a weather watch warning for the Horton Fire area. Fire managers are actively preparing for this wind event. Crews are mopping up hot spots and falling hazardous snags.

There are a number of homes within the area. Crews are maintaining structure protection. Sampson Road remains closed to the public at State View Road.The public is asked to avoid the Sampson Road area south of the Blue Ridge Parkway to provide safety for firefighters and local residents.

Local residents delivered traditional Thanksgiving meals to the firefighters yesterday afternoon and last night. Firefighters have felt very honored to serve this community and are very humbled by the hospitality shown by its residents.

Correction: Wind gust speeds in this release have been corrected. 30 mph – not 70 mph – gusts are expected. 

Community Provides Thanksgiving Feast for Firefighters

The community provided a remarkable Thanksgiving feast tonight to firefighters! Residents of the Blue Ridge Mountain Club packaged over 80 dinners for firefighters working on the line and through the night. Included with the much appreciated dinners were heartfelt “thank you” notes from Cove Creek second graders. Thank you for making Thanksgiving special on the Horton Fire!

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1,200-Acre Fire 65 Percent Contained as Firefighters Work Thanksgiving

Over 50 firefighters, law enforcement and emergency response personnel were active on the Horton Fire last night. Priority remained patrolling the fire area and the protection of homes particularly along Dugger Fire Tower Road. The fire is now approximately 1200 acres in size and remains at 65% contained. The fire is expected to grow to 1350-1500 acres within the established containment lines. No homes have been lost in this fire.

Minimal amounts of rain fell in and around the fire area overnight (300ths of an inch by one measurement near The Watauga Medical Center). The precipitation helped keep fire behavior low overnight but challenges continue today.  Approximately 125 responders from multiple agencies will continue to work towards full containment of the fire.  Fire fighting objectives today are to continue to protect homes in and around the fire and to increase and hold containment lines through the use of active patrols and further burn out operations if weather conditions are favorable.

Incident Commander Brent Triplett said that the fire fighters continue “making good headway in achieving our objectives. This is one of the most interagency teams that I have ever worked with. Teams have come from all over to work together. Thank you to all of the crews working today on Thanksgiving. We are very thankful for the wonderful community support and for the ongoing dedication of all of the responders and particularly to the many volunteer fire fighters how have been vital to this response.”

A Type III Incident Management Team will be arriving this morning to aid in the management of the fire. The IMT will complete transition briefings and then join the Unified Command in completing the objectives of containing and putting out the fire.

Sampson Road remains closed at State View Road. Members of the public who do not live in the area are asked to continue to avoid the area to allow fire response traffic safe access to the fire. The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office is patrolling the fire perimeter.

Three power polls located near Watson Drive and Sampson Road have been burned at the base. Bremco/Blue Ridge Electric utility crews will be working to replace those polls today.

Stay tuned to @FireHorton on twitter and the HortonFire.blogspot.com for any further updates or changes. Media phone number: 828-201-2885

Code Red on Thanksgiving, Unhealthy Air Outside

The snow-covered slopes of Sugar Mountain are barely visible in this photo taken today on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

The snow-covered slopes of Sugar Mountain are barely visible in this photo taken today on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

The smoke from the wildfires is affecting the air quality. Today in the High Country was a Code Orange day, which is particularly “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” like children, the elderly and those with lung and heart disease.

But Thanksgiving Day will be a Code Red day, according to the N.C. Air Quality Forecast Center. 

Code Red means: “Children, active people, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease (like asthma) [should] avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else: limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”

The N.C. Air Quality Forecast Center updates the following day’s forecast at 3 p.m. each day. Click the link above for more information. 

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Wednesday Afternoon Update

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road on Tuesday evening.

As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the Horton Fire is 65 percent contained and approximately 900 acres. 125 emergency response personnel from 26 agencies are actively responding. Fire crews have responded from as far away as New Jersey, Arizona, and Florida.

Incident Commander Brent Triplett said, “It’s a very tough thing for first responders to be away from their homes and families around Thanksgiving, but our firefighters are a dedicated group of folks. We all just try to encourage each other as much as we can.”

The firefighting priorities are focused on protecting homes within and near the fire area. No structures have been burned and debris removal and burnout operations continue around homes. Burnout operations are being supported by multiple air resources.  Two 800 gallon Single Engine Air Tankers along with a helicopter are supporting crews on the ground.

Weather conditions continue to be favorable for fire operations. If operations continue successfully full containment may be reached by Friday.

The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office is patrolling the fire perimeter. Members of the public who do not live in the area are asked to avoid the area.

A smoke exposure public health advisory has been released and will be published at hortonfire.blogspot.com.

A great thank you to the Watauga County community for stepping up to provide donations for the firefighters. No additional donations are needed. The community is encouraged to donate to the Red Cross.

There are no additional media briefings scheduled for today. Stay tuned to @FireHorton on twitter and the HortonFire.blogspot.com for any further updates or changes.


Smoky Pic of Grandfather Mountain on Wednesday

Grandfather Mountain amidst a smoky haze from the wildfires on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Grandfather Mountain amidst a smoky haze from the wildfires on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Public Health Advisory About Smoke Exposure from Watauga County Fire

apphealthcare-vertical-final-01Nov. 23, 2016. AppHealthCare (Appalachian District Health Department) and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System are advising residents and visitors to be aware of the possibility of smoke from Sampson/Horton fire in the southern portion of Watauga County.

State health officials from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommend the following information.

Wildfires present health risks for everyone, but wildfire smoke may cause eye irritation, cough, sore throat, chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, severe fatigue, or wheezing. Wildfire smoke may make these symptoms worse in people who have respiratory allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, or angina.

Contact your doctor if you are experiencing a worsening in your symptoms.

Read more about this advisory here. 



Fire Expected To Grow To 1,500 Acres

Nov. 23, 2016. As of 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Horton Fire remains at 20 percent contained and approximately 700-800 acres. The fire is expected to grow to approximately 1500 acres through the day but that growth remains inside the identified containment areas. Over 50 firefighters remained on the fire overnight to strengthen containment lines and to ensure protection for homes in the area.

The fire is located in the Sampson area in southern Watauga, about five miles from Blowing Rock. 

Back burn operations along Sampson Road on Tuesday.

Back burn operations along Sampson Road on Tuesday.

There are no structures burned at this time and there are multiple fire crews assigned specifically for structure protection. There are a number of homes within the fire perimeter and approximately 55 homes threatened in the area of the fire. Yesterday and overnight burnout operations were safely completed around homes within the fire area. Crews will continue to use this strategy today to safely remove fuel around homes.

There are no new mandatory evacuations. Watson Drive remains under a mandatory evacuation order. The Red Cross continues to have a shelter open at Alliance Bible Church. No residents stayed at the shelter overnight. Evacuated homeowners may take pets to the Watauga Humane Society.

Members of the public who do not live in the area are asked to avoid the area of Sampson Road south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sampson road remains closed to the public at State View Road.

Firefighters will continue to work towards containment of the fire throughout the day. Updates will be shared at www.hortonfire.blogspot.com throughout the day and on Twitter at @FireHorton and on the Watauga County Emergency Management Facebook page.

An interactive map showing the approximate fire location is available on the Horton Fire blog.

For updates on wildfires burning in North Carolina and helpful information on air quality, fire bans and donations visit http://ncjic.blogspot.com/

Horton Fire Public Information phone number: 828-201-2885


AIR QUALITY CONCERNS: Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in High Country

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Click here for more info: https://xapps.ncdenr.org/aq/ForecastCenter


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Taken early this morning from Howard’s Knob , smoke from the Watauga fire near Sampson. Photo by Jan Todd


See Nov. 22 evening WNC Wildfire Summary from NC Forest Service.


Want To Donate?

Watauga County will only be accepting monetary donations in support of the wildland fires. They asked that all donations be directed to the American Red Cross.  Please see link to American Red Cross Web Site.  

The McDowell County Office of Emergency Management has stated that no more donations are needed at this time. Clear Creek Fire personnel greatly appreciate the overwhelming support and donations.

Many of the counties continue to receive donations for individual fires. To donate to an area fire near you or to the Western North Carolina Firefighters Association monetary fund, go to http://ncjic.blogspot.com/p/donations.html

PHOTOS

Photos courtesy https://hortonfire.blogspot.com/

Looking over the fire from the Blue Ridge Parkway 7:00 AM 11/22/16

Looking over the fire from the Blue Ridge Parkway 7:00 AM 11/22/16

Looking over fire from Blue Ridge Mountain Club entrance 5:00 PM 11/22/16

Looking over fire from Blue Ridge Mountain Club entrance 5:00 PM 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Engines in place for structure protection. 11/22/16

Engines in place for structure protection. 11/22/16

Engines in place for structure protection. 11/22/16

Engines in place for structure protection. 11/22/16

Fire line created by bulldozer near Dugger Fire Tower Road. 11/22/16

Fire line created by bulldozer near Dugger Fire Tower Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16


Update at 5:30 p.m.: Fire ‘Boxed-in’ as Firefighters Work Overnight

By Jesse Wood

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Back burn operations along Sampson Road. 11/22/16

Firefighters have the Horton Fire in Watauga County “boxed in” and will maintain the fire lines overnight, according to Watauga County Fire Marshall Steve Sudderth on Tuesday afternoon at about 5:30 p.m.

The Horton Fire – named after a nearby “Horton Branch Creek” – in Watauga County started at about 7 p.m. on Monday near the intersection of Sampson and Penley roads, and reached 400 acres in size by Tuesday morning, threatening 55 homes.

The fire has reached 700 to 800 acres as of the latest update at about 5 p.m. The fire is burning in steep, heavily wooded areas, and 100 personnel from 19 agencies are on the scene. The fire is 20 percent contained and hasn’t jumped any fire lines, according to Sudderth. 

“It’s hard to tell right now, but I am guessing the final [acreage] will be about 1,000 acres,” Sudderth said. “It seems like a lot … You just have to find that suitable terrain for [fire lines]. As long as we don’t have any high winds, it’s looking pretty good.”  

“No structures lost. Nobody hurt,” Sudderth added. “It’s been a good day.”

Watson Drive residents have been evacuated and authorities have said Dugger Fire Tower Road and Flat Mountain Road residents should prepare for “imminent mandatory evacuations.”

Fire line created by bulldozer near Dugger Fire Tower Road. 11/22/16

Fire line created by bulldozer near Dugger Fire Tower Road. 11/22/16

“The fire got right up against [some of the homes] … We just had to burnout away from them to make sure the fire didn’t get up on top of them. We’ll be sitting engines on top of them through the night just in case and re-evaluate in the morning,” Sudderth said. “It’s going pretty good right now. Everybody is doing a real good job.”

Scroll down the page to see maps, air quality alerts and more information about the fire, ongoing drought and necessary burn ban. 

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Click the following link to see more on this: https://xapps.ncdenr.org/aq/ForecastCenter


Horton Fire Update at 2:30 p.m.

Due to a wildland fire in the Sampson area of Watauga County, NC there has been a State of Emergency declared. In the best interest of public safety, it may be necessary to evacuate the civilian population from affected areas.

For specific information on evacuations call 828-201-2885.

This county declaration, which happened at 10 a.m., frees up additional resources that can be used in response to the fire. 

See declaration pdf:  
declaration


Horton Fire Update at 1:30 p.m.:

Fire crews continue to work to contain the Horton Fire. Additional fire crews from Alexander County, Avery County, Catawba County, and Wilkes County are now assisting complete today’s objective which is to establish containment around the wildfire. Work is being completed today to widen fire containment lines through back burning operations and other strategies.

The fire is burning in steep, heavily wooded areas but weather conditions this afternoon and evening are forecasted to be favorable.

Watson Drive has been evacuated and residents along Dugger Fire Tower Road and Flat Mountain Road should continue to prepare for imminent mandatory evacuations. If residents feel their safety is in danger, county officials recommend they self-evacuate to a safe location.

A Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Alliance Bible Fellowship church in Boone, NC. Evacuees with pets may take their pets to the Watauga County Humane Society.

Media staging is being set up at the intersection of Friendship Church Road and Aho Road.

Members of the public who do not live in the Blue Ridge Mountain Club/Upper Sampson area are asked to not go sightseeing in this area. The traffic congestion from people trying to see the fire is hampering emergency operations.


By Jesse Wood

Firefighters and emergency responders have been fighting the first major wildfire in Watauga County since forest fires began popping up in Western North Carolina roughly a month ago.

The Horton Fire – named after a nearby “Horton Branch Creek” – in Watauga County started at about 7 p.m. on Monday near the intersection of Sampson and Penley roads. As of Tuesday morning at about 7 a.m., the fire reached 400 acres in size with zero containment and currently threatens 55 homes.

About noon, Nathan Hunerwadel, public information officer for the Horton Fire, said that no updates were available when asked about the initial figures related to the 400 acres and 55 homes. However, Hundewadel did request that the public not travel in the vicinity unless you live in the Blue Ridge Mountain Club or Upper Sampson area because traffic congestion is hampering emergency operations. 

Watson Drive residents have been evacuated and authorities have said Dugger Fire Tower Road and Flat Mountain Road residents should prepare for “imminent mandatory evacuations,” according to a release issued this morning.

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The fire location is flagged in the map below. As the crow flies, the fire is about 4 to 5 miles from Blowing Rock, according to an estimate Google Maps.

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Check out http://hortonfire.blogspot.com/ for interactive map.

A portion of the fire is on Blue Ridge Mountain Club property, however a spokesperson with the development said – as of about noon on Tuesday – that no homes are “under immediate threat and no evacuations have been ordered” by emergency management officials.

Jim Pitts, general manager of Blue Ridge Mountain Club, sent an email to residents of the development, updating them on the fire at about noon. Pitts noted that the fire containment includes all land between Sampson Road, Reynolds Parkway and West Ridge Trail (Old Dugger Fire Tower Trail). See map:

Containment is in red.

Containment is in red.

Pitts noted to residents that while the only release from emergency officials indicated zero percent fire containment, a “quality fire break has been formed and completely surrounds the planned burn area.”

Boone, Blowing Rock, Deep Gap, Stewart Simmons, Meat Camp and Foscoe fire departments are among the emergency personnel from Watauga and Caldwell counties responding.

Fire Concerns Across WNC, Fire Danger HIGH
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For the past month, firefighters have been battling tens of thousands of acres of fires in Western North Carolina. Here was the intro in the most recent wildfire update from the U.S. Forest Service on Monday evening: 

“Due to the sheer number of uncontained and uncontrolled fires in the southern region, local, state and federal agencies have banded together in an unprecedented effort to contain and control these fires and to help communities prevent new fires from sprouting.

“Pervasively dry weather across much of the southeastern U.S. has created perfect conditions for wildfires. Suppression activities throughout the region have stretched resources extremely thin, thus prompting the Southern Area Coordination Center to declare the region under Preparedness Level 5, the highest level, which is rare for the Southern Area. The last time this occurred was in 2007.”

Up until this past weekend, the High Country had only been affected by drift smoke for the most part in relation to drought-related fires. (Other drought impacts were related to agriculture, such as cattlemen having to already feed hay normally set aside for winter, and potentially to homeowners with wells.)

On Sunday, the 2 Mile Fire in Ashe County stated and is currently contained at 400 acres. Then, on Monday evening, the Horton Fire erupted in Watauga County.

The drought, which began around June, has been extremely more severe in the southwestern part of the state, but in the High Country conditions are becoming drier. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor of N.C., the High Country is amidst a “severe drought” classification. This is compare to the “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions facing the southwestern part of the state, where the majority of wildfires are located.

Jeff Cardwell working in the U.S. Forest Service and N.C. Forest Service Joint Information Command office based in Asheville, said that firefighters have been battling these fires in Western North Carolina for more than a month. He said firefighters are battling active fires in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

ARSON SUSPECTED IN SOME OF WNC FIRES

Earlier this month, Gov. Pat McCrory announced the state is offering a reward of up to $10,000 to be issued to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who are responsible for setting wildfires in western North Carolina.

Dave Faherty of WSOC-TV tweeted the following: “Firefighters just confirmed to channel 9 they believe the fire in Watauga County was possibly set on purpose in two locations.” 

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Lisa Jennings said that while some of the fires across the state are suspected to be arson, currently the fires are under investigation and authorities aren’t allowed to comment on fires under investigation.

“But we are asking people to keep their eyes open and say something,” Jennings said, noting the 1-800-47-ARSON tip line.

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The NC Forest Service announced this morning that the burn ban has been extended to 22 additional counties in Western North Carolina:

“Under North Carolina law, the ban prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was issued. An open burn ban is now in place for the entire counties of Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Gaston, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Montgomery, Polk, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin and Yancey.”

Lauren Maloney, a member of the WNC Fire Prevention Education Team, said:

“The biggest piece of advice is to be really aware that conditions are different [right now]. Things are drier than they have been in 60 years here. We definitely want to encourage folks to avoid starting any yard debris burns and obey fire restrictions.”

With current conditions, Maloney said that a spark or an escaped ember – that is normally of no consequence – can set off a wildfire, especially if the wind is picking up.

“Carelessness, human negligence and accidental is one of the things going on here. The relative humidity is so low, unusually low, that sparks that don’t normally cause wildfires are happening here,” Maloney said.

She mentioned that sparks from lawnmowers chipping a rock or other equipment such as an ATV or chainsaw, a carelessly disregarded cigarettes or wood-stove ash (use metal bucket), or chains dragging on the ground from a boat or trailer are all things that are capable of starting a raging wildfire with current conditions.

A Twitter account has been set up to share information on the Horton Fire. Follow @FireHorton for updates.

Also check out: http://hortonfire.blogspot.com/

Responders to Horton Fire

    • Watauga County Fire Departments
    • Boone, Blowing Rock, Deep Gap, Stewart Simmons, Meat Camp, Foscoe, Watauga Rescue
    • Caldwell County FD
    • Patterson, Yadkin Valley
    • North Carolina Fire Service
    • Watauga and Caldwell Emergency Management
    • Watauga County Sheriff’s Office
    • Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office
    • Red Cross 
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Taken early this morning from Howard’s Knob , smoke from the Watauga fire near Sampson. Photo by Jan Todd

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This photo was posted @firehorton Twitter account

 

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