Table Rock wildfire contained 40 percent Friday, officials say

by: Catherine Bilkey Updated:

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BURKE COUNTY, N.C. -  Channel 9 learned Friday the Table Rock wildfire in the North Carolina mountains is 40 percent contained, compared to 5 percent Thursday night.

The fire has burned 1,800 acres.

A chance of rain and less wind Friday could help firefighters as they try to stop it from spreading.

Firefighters say they will create “burn outs” between containment lines and the fire in hopes of slowing it down.

The fire has been burning for nearly two days and is getting closer to some homes in the area.

Due to the smoke from the fire, an Air Quality Alert has been issued Friday for Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and McDowell counties.

The fire is in the Table Rock Mountain area within the Linville Gorge of the North Carolina Mountains.

Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty learned Thursday afternoon that by the time they are able to contain this fire, more than 1,000 acres could burn.

Roy Malone is like many other residents who live near the fire. He is only able to watch as it inches closer to his home and others north of Morganton.

Check out amazing photos of wildfire submitted by viewer

The smoke from the wildfire could be seen as far away as Hickory.

"You can tell the fire is pretty bad because the smoke is everywhere," said resident Connie Morton.

"Our biggest concern is the fuel and the topography," said Deputy Incident Commander Steve Little.

At the fire command center in Morganton, firefighters showed Channel 9 a map with the size of the 300-acre blaze. Black lines mark how much more could burn before they are able to stop it.

"It is certainly some difficult terrain to work in. That's why we have made some decisions to pull off and to use containment lines in a little better location," said information officer Deborah Walker.

By mid-morning, nearly 100 firefighters had arrived in Burke County.

Helicopters are now being used to set back fires ahead of the main fire line by shooting incendiary devices into the woods.

The hope is to set smaller fires that will blacken the forest floor cutting off the fire's fuel and keeping it in check.

By lunchtime, only 5 percent of the fire was contained.

Danny Warlick has hiked the area and said it will be challenging for those on the front line.

"It's not really easy for the guys in there to get access to the fire. It is hard ground to traverse," said Warlick.

Channel 9 asked firefighters how far the fire is from the closest homes and they said 1 to 2 miles.

They hope to use dirt roads to cut the fire off before it gets anywhere near those homes.


Fire strengthens on Wednesday

Wednesday night, the flames from Table Rock Mountain were easy to see as Chopper 9 Sky Zoom flew overhead.

Officials say the fire may have spread over 100 acres. The Table Rock wildfire burned on the mountain of the same name within the Linville Gorge.

"It's going pretty far into the gorge and encroaching on the Chimneys but the thing that's in the hearts of all of us is the safety of the firefighters and our beloved Outward Bound base camp," Dee Thomas said.

Firefighters are stationed at the Outward Bound facility to protect the structure, but the N.C. Forest Service said no structures are in real danger right now.

CHOPPER 9: Pilot Andy Holt describes Linville Gorge wildfire on air

"(The Outward Bound facility) is just slightly to the northeast of the fire so as long as the winds stay out of the north or out of the west, then it's probably going to be fine," Walker said.

Wednesday, crews focused on containment lines and have been setting controlled fires to burn away fuel that fires need to grow.

Crews are working to complete lines to the north, south and east. And they are strengthening them by conducting burn outs where they set controlled fires to burn the fuel fires need to grow.

"We use fire to fight fire," Walker said.

So far there have been no reported injuries.

IMAGES: 100-acre wildfire burning in Linville Gorge

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Investigators are asking for the public's help. If someone saw anyone in the Table Rock picnic area on Monday, contact the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

"A couple of hours ago it was about half of that size," said resident Michelle Pope.

"It looks like it is boiling up more and more. It is really flaming up it looks like," said resident Naomi Lowman.

Earlier Wednesday, Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty drove more than 12 miles on a fire road through the wilderness area to see the fire up close.

Firefighters are trying to determine Wednesday the best way to attack the huge blaze that is less than a half mile from 25 buildings at the N.C outward bound school.

Employees at the school gathered what they could and got out.

"We better scuttle. We need to move and we need to get our gear," said school employee Linda Brackett.

The U.S. Forestry Service has cut a line with a bulldozer around the buildings hoping to steer the fire around the school.

But it could be a challenge with outward bound located in such rugged terrain and the recent dry weather.

Workers at the school remain optimistic.

 

"The firefighters have been great. They have a plan to suppress fire around some of the building that are the most important," said employee Donna Allison.

But firefighters admitted Wednesday that there are some areas near the fire that are so rugged there is little they can do to stop it.

More personnel and equipment are being brought to the area tonight to help.

"It is going to be tough. I wouldn't want to be up there fighting it, " said resident Steve Loftus.

The latest numbers say roughly 100 acres now but firefighters on the front lines tell Channel 9 it is much bigger than that.

The Forestry service said it is a zero percent containment.

Channel 9 will monitor firefighters’ progress Thursday and bring the latest updates on Eyewitness News starting at 5 p.m.

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