North Carolina Fire Grows by 10%, Homes Evacuated

June 12, 2008

Winds whipped up an eastern North Carolina wildfire June 10, expanding its footprint by more than 10 percent and forcing the evacuation of 50 homes, officials said.

Firefighters scrambled to strengthen or build about 20 miles of containment lines, expecting that the wildfire will push toward the northeastern boundary of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge by midmorning June 11.

“We hope to hold it at those containment lines,” said Jody Brady, a spokesman for the North Carolina Forest Service. “We’ll find out when the fire reaches them.”

The fire in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties was sparked June 1 by a lightning strike. It has now spread to 40,195 acres, or 64 square miles. The fire is about 40 percent contained, officials said.

While sporadic afternoon thunderstorms poured rain on portions of the fire, they also stirred erratic winds that blew life into pop-up spot fires. And the storms also pushed thick smoke to the ground, limiting visibility across the area, including Highway 64 west of Columbia, N.C.

“Sometimes the smoke gets so heavy in there you can’t see,” Brady said.

The 50 homeowners near New Lake were asked to leave at about 6 p.m. because of a fire that popped up in the area. Those homes were also evacuated last week. No homes have burned in the fire and nobody has been injured.

It is the largest active fire in the United States and will need days of steady rain to be extinguished, said Hannah Thompson of the North Carolina Forest Service. Officials said the next largest wildfire was a 2,100-acre fire — a couple of square miles — in New Mexico.

Much of the North Carolina fire is burning underground in organic peat soil.

Response to the fire has cost nearly $1.4 million for the state.

Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole urged the White House on June 10 to consider emergency assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency originally denied the request.

“I urge you to encourage FEMA to reconsider its denial of assistance and help bring relief to the area’s residents and volunteers working to fight this dangerous fire,” Dole wrote in a letter to President Bush.

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