McDowell officials: Stricter burning bans now in place

One of several fires that have scorched western N.C. over the last three weeks.

DUSTIN CHANDLER | MCDOWELL NEWS

Effective immediately, McDowell County is under a stricter temporary ban which prohibits all burning within 100 feet of a residence.

The McDowell County Commissioners approved this temporary ban at their regular meeting on Monday. This action was done at the request of local firefighters and emergency personnel, who said the ongoing drought and wildfires have made conditions too dangerous in McDowell.

“Without that ordinance in place, any citizen can burn within 100 feet of their house and we can’t do anything about it,” said Donnie Tipton, chief of the Glenwood Fire Department. “Conditions are so great, we are pretty much standing on our own.”

This temporary ban for McDowell applies to all burning that was not already covered by the state’s burning ban, which was issued by the N.C. Forest Service to all 25 counties in the western part of the state on Monday, Nov. 7 . Tipton and Emergency Services Director William Kehler said it will prohibit the use of charcoal grills, fire pits and burning in barrels. Gas grills that have a cover will be the exception, they said.

Craig Walker, the deputy director of emergency management, will enforce the ban.

Tipton referred to the large wildfires now burning, such as the Party Rock Fire in Lake Lure and the South Mountain fire in southern Burke County. “We don’t need a Party Rock. We don’t need a South Mountain,” he said to the commissioners. “I realize we are going to upset a lot of people who are camping. I realize we are going to upset a lot of people who are burning in barrels.”

Tipton said every fire chief in McDowell has agreed with this temporary ban.

Within McDowell County alone, there were at least 10 reported wildfires in the area, including 100 acres in the area of Roby Conley Road and Old Greenlee Road, 50 acres at Tatertown Road in Dysartsville and 13 acres along Goforth Road, Gurley Road and Joe’s Drive.

Outside of McDowell, fires within Burke, Buncombe and Rutherford counties have only grown overnight.

Presently, the Party Rock fire near Lake Lure is only 15 percent contained and has scorched approximately 3,800 acres across Buncombe, Henderson and Rutherford Counties. According to WLOS, there are almost 450 firefighters from more than 100 agencies working to put out the flames, with nearby communities providing supplies and assistance on the front lines. The fire began on Nov. 5 in Chimney Rock State Park, initially estimated at 1,101 acres of state and private land, and threatened more than 500 homes in and around the Lake Lure, Chimney Rock and Shumont areas. Mandatory evacuations were given to 800-plus citizens within the surrounding areas with numbers only to increase.

According to reports, the fire that struck South Mountains State Park has grown to 3,900 acres between Monday and Tuesday and is presently 20 percent contained. Fire agencies from Oregon and Alaska have provided mutual aid to combat the flames, which started Nov. 6 at initially 75 acres.

In Clay County, the Boteler fire that ignited on Oct. 25 within the Chunky Gal Mountain area is now at 8,925 acres and 43 percent contained. There are at least 366 personnel responding to the flames. Meanwhile, the Tellico fire between Swain and Macon counties has grown to 13,676 acres and is at 39 percent containment, according to the N.C. Forest Service.

In a statement made by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funds to reimburse costs to the state of North Carolina to help fight the fire on Party Rock; this authorization allows 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs – including labor, equipment, supplies and emergency work in evacuations and sheltering – to be reimbursed.

Prior to the Party Rock fire, Governor Pat McCrory issued a State of Emergency to help combat more than 20 active wildfires within the state.

“This declaration will help facilitate evacuations as needed and provide further state assets to help combat the wildfires and support North Carolinians displaced by the fires,” said McCrory.

While chances of precipitation remain undetermined for the time being, McCrory and N.C. Forest Service officials have stated that the fire could continue burning until March unless the state receives rain or snow.

Air quality in western N.C. has become massively affected as a result of the numerous wildfires, with drift smoke emitting along McDowell, Burke and surrounding counties. According to Mission Health experts and state and federal air quality officials, the elderly, children and people with cardiovascular deseases, specifically asthma and COPD, should limit their exposure to outside air.

According to Emergency Management, while there are no currently active fires in McDowell, donations and supplies to other fire districts are highly welcomed to provide responder rehab to the fire scene. These items can include:

  • Water
  • Crackers
  • Gatorade or Gatorade single serve mix packets.
  • Snack type items containing protein
  • Styrofoam cups for coffee
  • Coffee Creamer (no refrigeration type required)
  • Packets of Sweeteners (Sugar, Splenda, Equal)
  • Coffee
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Baby wipes or hand wipes.

These items can be dropped off at any of the local Fire, Rescue or EMS stations in McDowell County.

The burning ban is still active until further notice. Violating the ban will result in a $100 fine plus court costs of $180.

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