McDowell citizens and members of local and state agencies met at Woodlawn Baptist Church on Thursday to discuss the Dobson Knob Fire, now estimated at 1,467 acres and 40 percent contained.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, the North Carolina Forest Service, Emergency Management, Woodlawn and local fire departments and the Type 2 Incident Management Team (IMT) overseeing the fire held a community meeting at Woodlawn Baptist Church to inform the public on the fire’s progress and answer any questions.
Incident Commander Kevin Harvell brought the group up to speed.
“We have bulldozer lines established on the north end where a lot of the smoke is coming from, and we’ve brought it down into our control lines to ensure it didn’t spill into rough terrain,” said Harvell, showing Thursday’s map. “Our objective is to keep the north, west and east side contained to those specific areas, and to bring the south end to lines previously established by the Bald Knob fire in our burnout operations, with structural protection in the Ashford and North Cove communities.”
Fire Behavior Analyst John Cook spoke about difference between the Bald Knob fire in fall of 2015 and the current spring fire.
“We haven’t had many leaves come in, and we didn’t have much snow during the winter, and with 70 degree days, the leaves are turning into fuel, allowing it to grow as fast as it has,” said Cook. “We are 50 to 75 percent behind on rainfall, so we’re waiting on some help from above to provide moisture, but we are not in as bad of a situation as Bald Knob in regards to heavy logs and conditions making access difficult.”
According to Friday’s press release, weather for the incoming weekend may be warm and dry, which may add to fuel the fire, but the next week may provide relief in the form of showers and thunderstorms.
After members of the IMT and N.C. Forest Service spoke in regards to the drift smoke affecting McDowell – in which a Code Orange Air Quality Alert for Fine Particulates is in effect for McDowell, Burke, Mitchell and Avery counties – Emergency Services Director William Kehler addressed coordination between the local and state agencies.
“It seems that we’re having to do this again on another holiday,” said Kehler, referencing the Clear Creek fire near Thanksgiving last year. “Heading into last Sunday when the fire was reported, there were no structures lost and no injuries and that’s thanks to the Woodlawn, Marion, Ashford and other fire agencies. We’ve been able to coordinate with the IMT and N.C. Forest Service to have special ops with EMS and Emergency Management around the fire to provide quick medical aid to injured personnel during the incident.”
Afterward, the floor was opened to public comments and questions, among those included possible evacuations and shelters in response to fire growth and drift smoke.
“At this time, we do not see the need for evacuations, but with weather not always predictable and current fuels adding to the fire growth, that could change,” said Kehler. “Should it happen, the IMT will make a recommendation with Emergency Management and will coordinate with law enforcement, and with that we try to give as much advanced notice as we can to eliminate surprises.”
Elizabeth O’Nan, a resident of the Sugar Cove area, raised issues over implementing shelters too close to the drift smoke in previous incidents.
“We were given really good notice in advance with the Clear Creek fire, but the shelter we were provided was in Nebo where there was a lot of smoke,” she said. “ we need enough shelters to where if the wind shifts, we can make sure that people are out of the way from the smoke.”
“We have at least 20 shelters planned in advance and will work with individual needs,” responded Kehler, adding that wind shifts will have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
IMT said a burning ban was not needed at this time but did request that citizens be careful the next few days with open flames.
Trail closures continue in the fire area, including a portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail along the eastern and southeastern edges of the fire. National Forest trail and forest road closures can be found on the National Forests in North Carolina website at www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc .
As of Friday’s press release, there are currently 213 personnel on scene. Additional fire information can be found on INCIWEB (inciweb.nwcg.gov/).