State of emergency expanded in 22 counties, including Mecklenburg, due to wildfires

Gov. Pat McCrory expanded the state of emergency Wednesday to cover 22 additional counties impacted by the wildfires. It brings the total to 47 counties now under a state of emergency.

The 22 counties added include: Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Cabarrus, Caswell, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Iredell, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Union, Wilkes and Yadkin.

"This designation will help ensure counties threatened by wildfires and our emergency responders will have the tools needed to fight the most serious and dangerous fires we have experienced in North Carolina in decades," McCrory said.

Nearly 3,000 active personnel from across the state and country are now involved in fighting the wildfires that have burned more than 69,000 acres. The estimated cost of the wildfires is nearly $30 million.

The governor's office also said while nearly 2,300 structures have been threatened in the state, only two were destroyed.

On Friday, firefighters started battling a new wildfire in Buncombe County off the Pisgah Highway.

Crews said the fire, which is about 150 acres, started because of a nearby car fire.

The fire has come close to several homes, but no structures have been damaged. It has not yet been contained.

Firefighters from Wilkes, Caldwell, and Watauga counties scrambled to clear brush and leaves from around homes Wednesday morning.

Watauga County resident Judy Connell and her husband Johnny Connell are hoping they won't have to evacuate so they can be here for Thanksgiving.

"They tried to reassure us that our homes won't go up in flames. So you know that's what I'm thankful for," Judy Connell said.

"I ain't never met people like these fire workers over here. Fabulous people. And they're welcome in my house anytime for dinner," Johnny Connell said.

Less than 100 yards away from the Connell’s house, planes dropped fire retardant on the woods.

The plan calls for surgically set back fires close to the homes in hopes of blackening the forest floor ahead of the main fire.

Channel 9 watched the method unfold live on Tuesday night.

"Last night we saw some images on T.V. of fire really close to homes but that fire was set intentionally and it was done in a safe manner and allows those homes to stay standing when the fire comes through," said fire spokesperson Nathan Hunerwadel.

But the winds which were light on Tuesday, picked up this afternoon sending flames up into trees less than a half mile from the homes.

Nearly 1,000 acres have burned here but firefighters are making progress.

The fire is more than 60 percent contained.

Resident Paul Nicholls hopes firefighters are able to keep the flames away from his home and said he is thankful this Thanksgiving that they are here.

"They made a fire break around our house, cut all the shrubs back and watered the house down with a hose and they just keep checking on stuff going up and down the road," Nicholls said.

Firefighters said they are using social media to get information out about the fire.

Dramatic video captured by Chopper 9 Skyzoom showed just how close the flames were to homes, though firefighters said it was a back-burn, set to prevent the wildfire from spreading.

"We have structure protection units protecting the homes," Nathan Hunerwadel, public information officer, said. "They are clearing out brush, clearing out debris that may catch fire and in some cases they may be doing back-burning."

Back-burning operations overnight slowed the progress of the fire, but officials believe the fire will burn 1,500 acres by Wednesday night.

Firefighters brought in more resources overnight to protect homes and buildings, though because of the other fires raging across the state, those resources are extremely tight.

Crews told Channel 9 that nothing was harmed by fire overnight.

The biggest challenge fire crews faced overnight was seeing in the dark, telling Channel 9 that visibility made it difficult to hold containment lines.

CLICK HERE for the latest on individual wildfires across the South

Firefighters gathered Wednesday morning to go over their plan of attack for the day.

The situation remains very dangerous and fire officials told Channel 9 that they are expecting extreme fire behavior due to mountainous terrain and dry conditions.

They have already seen some flames 50-60 feet tall.

They are trying to contain the fire within a 1,500-acre area, and told Channel 9 that dozens of homes are inside the containment lines. Crews stressed that they were not going to abandon those homes though, and plan to set more back fires to protect them.

Channel 9 was with fire crews Wednesday along Dugger Fire Tower Road, where firefighters have repositioned equipment around homes as the wildfire burned about a quarter-mile away.

Firefighters were busy clearing brush away from one home, cutting away any debris. Nearby, crews were using leaf blowers to clear around another house.

Between 700-800 acres have burned east of Blowing Rock in the Sampson community. Firefighters told Channel 9 that they continue to use back fires to protect the homes -- blackening an area of the forest floor ahead of the wildfire.

The North Carolina Forest Service said they are looking into the possibility of the Horton fire being intentionally set.

To make matters worse in the mountains, visibility is very poor after low clouds settled in Wednesday morning.

Mixing with the smoke, it was difficult to see the fire fight below when Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over around noon. All of the cloud cover is part of a cold front to the west moving its way toward Charlotte.

About 10 miles north, in Boone at the Alliance Bible Fellowship Church, the Red Cross set up a shelter for people evacuating.

“It's really important just to pay attention to them (fire officials) and also what happens,” said Lee Whittman with the Red Cross. “You not only put your life in jeopardy, you put the firefighters’ lives in jeopardy as they try to save you.”

Whittman has assisted in natural disasters across the country and is now helping out his neighbors as the mountain they live near burns.

BREAKING WATCH LIVE: Chopper 9 is flying near the Horton wildfire that's threatening structures in Watauga County. NEXT AT 5 PM: Firefighters tell Channel 9 they believe it was set on purpose in two different locations. STORY: http://on.wsoctv.com/2gz98wg

Posted by WSOC-TV on Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Red Cross has blankets, bags of toiletries and room for plenty of people to stay at the church.

"Get out of the area, save your life and don't worry about it. Everything else can be replaced," Whittman said.

Airbnb is also offering help for those forced from their homes. They have a special disaster response tool that pairs fire evacuees with Airbnb hosts who are opening their homes free of charge.

The fire had not reached any structures and fire officials said that the cold temperatures overnight helped them keep the flames from spreading.

The North Carolina Forest Service has a helicopter about two miles away, ready to make water drops.

"The contingency is wherever we're needed is where we're going to be," said pilot Bill Condon. "If there is structures threatened, we'll definitely consider what we'll be doing as far as dropping water near those houses."

Deputies went door-to-door earlier Tuesday, telling people to voluntarily evacuate the area.

Nine fire departments from Watauga and Caldwell counties have been battling the wildfire. Early Tuesday morning, Channel 9 saw several areas on fire along a 2-mile stretch of dirt road that runs down into the Sampson community.

Some of where the fire is burning is very rugged terrain. That, combined with the dry conditions and low humidity, was making it very difficult for firefighters to contain the wildfire.

Channel 9 spoke with one homeowner nearby who has been preparing for an evacuation scenario for years.

“Any time you live in the woods you're aware that you live in a danger area,” the man said. “I've got a metal roof, I live in a masonry house and I've cleared all the dead and crowded, diseased trees from around the house.”

As firefighters work to gain the upper hand in Blowing Rock, smoke will continue to cause problems across the region.

Air quality issues are expected to continue downwind from fires in Ashe and McDowell counties, with more problems in Cleveland, Rutherford and Wilkes counties.

Air Quality Resources:

Conditions will be clear in Charlotte, though a Code Yellow air quality alert will remain in effect Wednesday.

A total fire ban is in effect for all of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The North Carolina Forest Service has banned all open burning in 25 counties in the western quarter of the state.

The largest fire is the Tellico fire in Swain and Macon counties that has burned nearly 14,000 acres. The fire started Nov. 3 but is 91 percent contained.

The two biggest local concerns continue to be the Chestnut Knob fire in Burke County and the Party Rock fire at Chimney Rock, but in McDowell County, the Clear Creek fire has grown to more than 800 acres.

The Chestnut Knob fire at South Mountains State Park was 65 percent contained Wednesday morning. It has burned more than 6,400 acres.

Chimney Rock State Park will fully reopen on Friday morning, while firefighters continue to battle the wildfire near Lake Lure. The Party Rock fire covers 7,100 acres and was 54 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.

As firefighters begin to get the upper hand on the fire, they've started canceling some evacuations, including Rumbling Bald Resort and Chimney Rock Village.

Firefighters have been able to get a pretty good handle on a nearly 200-acre wildfire in Ashe County. More than 100 firefighters helped battle the spreading flames off Highway 221, south of West Jefferson. The Forest Service said it started after a building caught fire and then spread into the woods.

Officials told Channel 9 that the fire was threatening 14 homes and has burned around 200 acres -- though firefighters warn it could burn nearly 425 acres before it is fully contained.

Brook Sturgill is in the middle of her two busiest weeks of the year as she and her family harvest nearly 30,000 Christmas trees with the fire burning less than a mile away.

"When you see this smoke, it is scary,” Sturgill said at her business, Mile High Tree Farm. “Last night, you could see the orange glow and it's closer than you think."

Firefighters believe the fire started near an outdoor water stove and then spread to a garage before reaching the woods.

An open burn ban is now in place for the entire counties of Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Gaston, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Montgomery, Polk, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin and Yancey, officials said.

State and federal investigators are in McDowell County, looking for the people responsible for setting roadside fires that have now spread to hundreds of acres.

In two weeks, roadside fires have started in four parts of the county -- one of them burning 200 acres, while another has scorched 100 acres.

Fire crews worried about falling leaves as they make progress in Burke County

In Burke County, firefighters are continuing to push flames away from containment lines near South Mountains State Park.

PHOTOS: North Carolina raging wildfires

Nearly 6,500 acres have now burned at the state park, and although that's 400 more acres than the fire destroyed before the weekend, gusty winds did not drive flames past those containment lines like firefighters had feared.

The wildfire's growth is slowing, so firefighters are starting to gaining ground against the flames. They now have about 65 percent of the fire contained.

It's a great feeling for exhausted firefighters, who have been trying to knock down the flames that started raging through the mountains more than two weeks ago.

The firefighters appreciate the donations and letters of thanks they've received. If you would like to send a letter, you can send it to:
Foothills Education Center 2128 South Sterling Street Morganton, NC 28655

The big concern moving forward is falling leaves. As they drop from trees they catch fire, starting new fires in areas that have already burned.

Crews have worked all week to remove those leaves from containment lines, building on the hard fought progress from the past two days.

Latest on the Carolina wildfires (Updated Nov. 25, 2 p.m.)


Firefighters provided patrols throughout the night. Hot spots were detected south of the Reynolds Parkway on the north end of the fire. Smoke is significantly affecting visibility from Watson Road up to the Dugger Fire Tower Road. Wind gusts up to 70 mph are expected tonight through the weekend prompting a weather watch warning for the Horton Fire area. Crews are mopping up and monitoring all areas of the fire.

  • Acreage: 1,408
  • Containment: 65%
  • Personnel: 125
  • Start Date: November 21


Although firefighters made progress on the north side of the Pinnacle Mountain Fire yesterday, the test fire that was conducted showed that conditions were not favorable for an effective burnout. Light winds and moderate humidity levels should aid crews today as they reinforce firelines throughout this burnout operation which could encompass as much as 500 acres. Crews hope to burn away from containment lines in the Slicking Gap area which is near the NC/SC state line. Yesterday, firefighters constructed a dozer line from the state line to within about 100 yards of the Saluda River. Plans are to complete this line today, which will help reduce the chance of the fire spreading to the west. The fire south of Saluda River is nearing full containment. Crews will continue to monitor and mop up any hot spots.

  • Acreage: 8,903
  • Containment: 40%
  • Personnel: 258
  • Start Date: November 9


A community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 P.M. tonight at Grace Community Church, 5182 U.S.70 Marion, NC. Residents living in this area are asked to limit their travel on the roads to allow the firefighters to work safely. Hwy NC 80 is closed to non-residents from Toms Creek Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Yancey County line; reopening the highway is being evaluated.

Fire crews continued to patrol and monitor the southern, eastern and northeastern perimeter of the fire near Clear Creek and Lake Tahoma Roads and extinguished any hot spots they found. Structure assessment and prep work continued in the Locust Cove area. Along the western and northwestern edge of the fire, crews continued to prep, install, and improve indirect fire lines. Helicopter bucket drops were successful in slowing the fire spread along the southwestern edge by delivering 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of water. Overnight, firefighters patrolled and monitored the fire along the southern, eastern and northern edges of the fire.

Firefighters working on the southwest and western areas of the fire will continue to construct and improve indirect fire line utilizing dozers and hand crews. Along the northwestern portion of the fire including near Locust Cove, crews will continue to improve fire line in preparation for firing operations as needed. Structure protection work will continue in the Clear Creek Road, NC Hwy 80 and Locust Cove areas. Several aviation resources are available and will assist firefighters as visibility allows in holding the fire lines and slowing fire spread with bucket drops. Night operations are scheduled again for this evening.

  • Acreage: 2,623
  • Containment: 30%
  • Personnel: 389
  • Start Date: November 20


Firefighters will continue monitoring hot spots and completing suppression repair. The U.S. Forest Service closure order is still in effect for the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and roads leading into the area.

  • Acreage: 7,788
  • Containment: 71%
  • Personnel: 185
  • Start Date: November 4

Boteler Fire (USFS - CHUNKY GAL AREA, Clay County)
Fire crews will continue to maintain and patrol control lines as well as improve, secure and mop up fire lines. The coordination of structure protection within divisions will continue.

  • Acreage: 9,036
  • Containment: 77%
  • Personnel: 171
  • Start Date: October 25


The Party Rock Fire is now 70% contained but small flames and smoke are still visible within the fire's footprint, as lingering hot spots flare up. The crews are working diligently to find and extinguish any trouble spots that could threaten containment lines. Crews are also taking steps to make sure the bulldozer lines and hand lines don't contribute to erosion if significant rain falls.

  • Acreage: 7,171
  • Containment: 70%
  • Personnel: 306
  • Start Date: November 5


The team is working on a fireline repair plan to return the South Mountain State Park back to its natural state. The incident management team is preparing a transition plan for the incoming team to manage the fire. Resources are continuing to be released to help with other wildfires in the region.

  • Acreage: 6,435
  • Containment: 80%
  • Personnel: 154
  • Start Date: November 6

Firefighters will begin burnout operations to help bring fire down to containment lines. Burnout operations are planned for the north end of the fire from Chestnut Ridge to Indian Springs, as well as on the southeastern perimeter down toward Patterson Gap west to Abe Gap. Burnout may include use of air and ground resources.

  • Acreage: 18,069
  • Containment: 35%
  • Personnel: 567
  • Start Date: November 9

Tellico Fire (USFS - NANTAHALA GORGE AREA, Swain and Macon Counties)

Fire crews will continue maintaining dozer, hand lines and contingency lines. This includes protection measures for structures and critical infrastructure. There is a portion of unsecured perimeter 50 feet into the interior where mop up will continue.

  • Acreage: 13,874
  • Containment: 91%
  • Personnel: 258
  • Start Date: November 3

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