Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler on Tuesday visited the sites of two major wildfires burning in eastern North Carolina. He met with N.C. Forest Service crews to learn how they are battling the fires, and also saw damage firsthand. The Forest Service became part of the NCDA&CS on July 1.
Commissioner Troxler saw the Juniper Road Fire in Pender County and the Simmons Road Fire along the border of Bladen and Cumberland counties.
The Juniper Road Fire has burned more than 31,000 acres since lightning started it June 19. As of Tuesday, the fire was 68 percent contained, and crews were continuing to secure and extinguish hotspots along the perimeter.
The Simmons Road Fire has burned 5,400 acres since it began June 20, also the result of a lightning strike. The fire has destroyed three homes and 16 outbuildings. It was 50 percent contained on Tuesday, and crews were constructing pre-suppression lines and attacking the blaze directly where fire intensity allowed.
Both fires are burning in organic soil, which can reach depths of 8 feet or more. Fighting ground fire is difficult because it creeps underground, drying out vegetation until the vegetation ignites, said Brian Haines, public information officer for the Forest Service. Fire can smolder in the ground for months, until there is a soaking rain, he said.
Commissioner Troxler commended crews for their work on these and other fires they have been dealing with since spring, as dry weather has prolonged the fire season this year. Since May, Forest Service employees also have responded to large fires in Dare and Sampson counties, which combined have burned nearly 46,000 acres. In addition to these fires, crews responded to nearly 700 other fires between May 1 and July 5.
“These crews are working long hours in the heat to protect homes and land, and I wanted to thank them personally for their dedication,” Troxler said. “I saw homes that wouldn’t be standing if not for the work of these firefighters.
“They are using their tools and techniques to contain these fires, but what we really need is a good soaking rain,” Troxler said.
Because of dry weather, a state ban on all open burning remains in effect for Dare, Tyrell and Washington counties as well as all areas south of Highway 64 and east of Interstate 95. The ban went into effect June 22 and will remain in effect until further notice.
The open burning ban means that all burning is prohibited if it is 100 feet or more from an occupied dwelling. An occupied dwelling is a home or residence where somebody lives. Some municipalities have enacted their own bans on open burning within that 100-foot area. Residents should check with their local fire department before planning any burn. The open burning ban is being enforced by local law enforcement agents, county fire marshals and the N.C. Forest Service.
For updates on these and other N.C. wildfires, visit www.inciweb.org/state/34/.