Nearly all of Pilot Mountain State Park reopens after wildfire

SURRY COUNTY, N.C. — Nearly all of Pilot Mountain State Park is reopening after a wildfire burned 1,100 acres of the park.

The Yadkin River section of the park reopened Saturday. Most of the park will be accessible to visitors starting Monday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The Pinnacle Trail will remain closed until a protective fence damaged by the fire can be rebuilt, North Carolina State Parks spokeswoman Katie Hall said.

The N.C. Forest Service reported the fire was fully contained on Dec. 4 but firefighters remained onsite to remove dead trees that could fuel flare-ups. Park workers are now managing the remnants.

“There are a few smoldering spots that our staff is still monitoring,” Hall said. It has cost $513,000 to fight the fire, according to a report from the National Interagency Coordination Center.

“Smoke is visible up high on Pilot Mountain,” said Operations Section Chief Kenny Griffin on Saturday. “Until we get significant rain, smoke will continue to be visible periodically. The smoke that is visible is well within containment lines.” The containment lines are lower on the slope.

Compounding the situation, the area received only 0.3 inches of rain in November. Average rainfall for November is 3 inches.

The park, northwest of Winston-Salem, is known for its iconic knob that rises about 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain. It also towers above nearby U.S. Highway 52, and officials are advising drivers to slow down and turn on their headlights in smoky conditions.

N.C. Forest Service officials said the fire, which started near a trail on Nov. 27, was caused by “an escaped campfire in an undesignated area.”

Officials issued a statewide outdoor burning ban two days later, citing dry conditions across the state. The ban was lifted for 67 counties on Dec. 8.

North Carolina State Parks and Recreation closed all entrances to Pilot Mountain State Park from Nov. 28 until Dec. 11.

“It saddens me,” said Ann Rivera, who visits the state park. “It really does. I just think it is a beautiful place. I’m not from here but when my kids come down, we go hiking around. It’s just stunning.”

Channel 9 spoke with several people who live near the park. They said the conditions there were very dry over November and during the first few days of the fire, there were breezy conditions.

Walt Schoenborn showed Channel 9 the bone-dry conditions in his neighborhood west of Pilot Mountain. Schoenborn was hoping for rain.

“It hasn’t rained here for at least 2 and a half weeks so it’s dry. It’s dry in the woods,” he said.

A team arrived Nov. 29 to take over management of the fire, North Carolina Forestry Service spokeswoman Christie Adams said by telephone.

“The fire is not contained, but it’s well within the containment lines,” Adams said Nov. 29. No structures are threatened, she said.

The state park sees thousands of visitors each year and for many in the area, watching the fire grow in size has been difficult.

Officials with the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department said a call about the fire came in around 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 27. In a post to social media, the department said it had approximately 50 firefighters responding to the blaze.

State officials had asked people to stay away from the area and to not use drones over the park in an attempt to photograph as they could interfere with fire-fighting aircraft.

The blaze was in the area of the Three Bear Gully Trail.

Gov. Cooper posted a statement on Facebook the morning of Nov. 28 about the fire.

“The Governor’s Office has been in communication with local officials responding to the fire on Pilot Mountain,” Cooper said. “We appreciate the tireless work of firefighters, State Parks, the Forest Service and others to keep people safe.”

In a Facebook post the evening of Nov. 28, Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan Cockerham said the situation was being closely monitored and the dry conditions had led to a ban on outdoor burning in Surry County and the surrounding counties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Check back for updates.

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