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WNC Drought Continues To Pose Fire Risk

The N.C. Forest Service is joining forces with the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to warn people in Western North Carolina that the lack of rainfall in the area has increased the probability of wildfires.

The little rainfall last week did almost nothing to relieve moderate to extreme drought conditions in Western North Carolina.

Western North Carolina attracts a lot of tourists coming to see the changing leaves in autumn or for extended stays to hunt. Some of these visitors will camp or rent cabins, where they may have a fire that could escape into areas where fuels are readily available due to the drought.

Fire experts agree that this fall’s wildfire season has the potential to be bad, especially if there are heavy winds. Due to the high probability of a campfire escaping and causing a wildfire, the National Park Service has issued a halt to all campfires in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as has the U.S. Forest Service in the backcountry of the lands they manage. Those building campfire in an established campground should use existing fire rings if possible and clear a safe area around them of at least 10 feet. Campers should also be sure to never leave campfires unattended, and ensure they are completely out before leaving.

As autumn progresses, many homeowners will be cleaning up their yards and burning debris such as sticks and leaves. “With nearly 40 percent of all wildfires in the state beginning with careless debris burning, and fuels being readily available, it’s important to be especially vigilant as dry grass and leaves in the neighboring woodlands can easily be ignited by an ember, putting you, your neighbors, the general public, and emergency responders at risk,” said Greg Yates, Mountain Regional Forester with the N.C. Forest Service.

There are many factors to consider before burning debris or lighting a campfire. Always check the weather prior to burning, and follow state and local regulations. Have an adequate safe distance from other flammable material, especially wooded areas and flammable material that may lead to houses. With all fires, be sure to tend to it until the debris pile or campfire is completely out.

“Everyone needs to be careful when burning; it’s not just campfires and burning yard debris that can cause a wildfire when it’s this dry,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, all the sticks, leaves, logs and other vegetation in the forest are right there and ready to burn if ignited, and it won’t take much to get them going.”

Another concern is that with the cooling weather many people will be heating their homes with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Often, users will dispose of ashes in a wooded area. If these ashes aren’t completely extinguished, they could cause a wildfire. Always be sure ashes are dead out, and dispose of them in a metal container with a cover.

Landowners with electric fences should also be aware that dry, high grass, is susceptible to catching fire from even the smallest of sparks. A grass fire can quickly consume a barn or home and spread to wooded areas.

While less common, a spark from a passing train, a dragging trailer chain, or any spark caused by machine use, or even a lit cigarette, can ignite dry fuels such as grass and leaves.

Careless debris burning is the top cause of wildfires in North Carolina. The N.C. Forest Service encourages residents considering debris burning to contact their county forest ranger. The ranger can offer technical advice and explain the best options to help maximize the safety to people, property and the forest. To learn your county ranger’s number or more safe burning tips, visit the N.C. Forest Service website at ncforestservice.gov.