Rain helps ease wildfires in North Carolina, but reprieve may be short

Nov 21, 2023, 4:17 PM

PINNACLE, N.C. (AP) — Heavy rain and lower temperatures helped slow down some wildfires in North Carolina on Tuesday, including blazes that had prompted evacuations of homes and campgrounds, forestry officials said.

But the reprieve for crews will likely only last through the Thanksgiving weekend, since rain isn’t expected again for another 10 days, according to Shardul Raval, director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s southern region.

“Unless we get some more continuous rain, we will probably be back to being active again in a few days,” he said.

On Saturday, a fire broke out in North Carolina’s Sauratown Mountains and grew to more than 750 acres (303 hectares) by Tuesday, according to Jimmy Holt, a ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service. The rainfall helped crews reach 41% containment Tuesday, Holt said. Evacuations there have been lifted.

“It’s so much better than it was a couple of days ago,” Holt said.

The Black Bear Fire in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest burned more than 1,800 acres (728 hectares) near the Tennessee state line, closing a portion of the Appalachian Trail in the area, officials said in a statement Tuesday. Despite Monday night’s winds, officials were able to contain the blaze. The rain was expected to further cut down on the fire, but smoke would likely remain as fuels continued to smolder.

“For right now, things will slow down,” said Adrianne Rubiaco, a U.S. Forest Service fire spokesperson in North Carolina. The slower activity will give firefighters a chance to rest and offers a chance to find and extinguish hotspots, instead of just working to slow or stop a fire’s spread, she said.

A red flag warning prompted officials at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border, to close campgrounds and most roads as a precaution on Monday. Teams were assessing damage Tuesday and planning to reopen roads and facilities once conditions allowed, officials said.

Fire officials in Townsend, Tennessee, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Knoxville, announced an emergency evacuation as crews battled a blaze. It was contained and the evacuation was lifted Tuesday morning.

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Rain helps ease wildfires in North Carolina, but reprieve may be short