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If you are traveling through McDowell County you may have noticed smoke from not one, but two wildfires in that county.
Bald Knob Fire
The Bald Knob Fire, burning on Forest Service land in McDowell County, remains at 40 acres. The fire, which was reported on July 17, received minimal amounts of rainfall this week from isolated storms.
While rainfall stalled any additional spread of the fire, the amount of precipitation was not enough to extinguish the burning fuels that are sheltered in the rocky cliffs below Bald Knob. With dry conditions and low humidity predicted for this weekend and early next week, the fire activity may increase as leaf litter dries out. Members of the public near the communities of Woodlawn, Sevier and those traveling along State Highway 221 can expect to see increased smoke over the weekend, with heaviest smoke likely to occur in the afternoons when temperatures are high and humidity low.
Firefighters placed an information board at the Woodlawn picnic area off of State Highway 221 that members of the public can view to learn more about the fire and the benefits of natural ignition wildfire in fire-adapted ecosystems like Bald Knob.
A temporary closure of a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail between the footbridge over the North Fork of the Catawba River and Dobson Knob Road (Forest Service Road 106) remains in place.
The fire is moving naturally across the terrain in an area where damage from Southern Pine Beetle created high levels of fuels. This area is adjacent to multiple prescribed burn areas that have recently been treated as part of the Grandfather Restoration Project which will limit the fire's ability to spread rapidly. The Columbine Wildfire Module, a specialized unit experienced in managing fires for multiple objectives, is assisting with the “confine and contain” strategy currently being employed. Firefighters are monitoring the fire, scouting for potential fire lines, and taking hourly weather observations to provide real-time data for fire managers. 13 personnel are assigned to the fire.
The cause of the fire was likely lightning though the ignition source remains unconfirmed. Cooperating agencies include the North Carolina Forest Service, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, McDowell County Emergency Management, and The Nature Conservancy.
Wolf Creek Wildfire
Firefighters continue establishing containment lines on the Wolf Creek wildfire burning on the Pisgah National Forest in McDowell County. The fire is located northwest of Old Fort, NC in steep terrain between Heartbreak Ridge and Jarrett Creek. The 35 acre wildfire, reported the evening of July 31st, remains 20 percent contained.
To reduce the threat to private property in the Mill Creek Area firefighters are building containment line on the south and west side of the fire. Crews are also improving the fire line along Jarrett Creek. Burnout operations to secure the fire line could begin as early as Monday or whenever weather conditions are favorable to reduce impacts to local communities.
With low humidity and no chance of rain forecasted over the next several days, officials expect the fire to continue to grow within containment lines. Members of the public near the communities of Old Fort and those traveling along Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 70 can expect to see smoke this weekend, with heaviest smoke likely to occur in the afternoons when temperatures are high and humidity low.
Heartbreak Ridge Trail (208) and Star Gap Trail (209) remain closed to public use and will be in effect until further notice. Jarret Creek Road (FS4030) is also closed to public use. Forest Service officials are asking the public to avoid this area for their own safety and the safety of emergency response personnel on scene.
Minimizing risk for firefighters, local communities, and the public are primary objectives. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and N.C. Forest Service (NCFS) are managing the fire jointly with resources from both agencies and support from McDowell County Emergency Management Services. 35 firefighters, a dozer, two engines, and a NCFS plane are assigned to the incident. The cause of the fire is still under investigation though firefighters believe ignition was likely caused by lightening from recent strong thunder storms.