As the Sugar Cove fire continued on N.C. 80 Tuesday, two back-to-back brush fires ignited in other parts of McDowell within a matter of minutes.
The blaze at N.C. 80, dubbed the Sugar Cove fire by responding units, is still estimated at 180 acres and 10 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire saw limited activity overnight, while crews continued fire line construction around the fire. Once containment lines are established, responding personnel will be able to conduct burnout operations and remove fuels between the active fire and the fire lines.
As of Tuesday’s deadline, fire activity was expected to increase through the afternoon with unseasonably warm temperatures, but is predicted to remain moderate as the fire moves along the ridges and slowly backs down slopes, pushing northeast. Structure protection is in place for homes and buildings on the south end of the fire area, while no structures are currently threatened at this time.
According to early press releases, the fire, ignited at approximately 1 p.m. on Jan. 28 on private land at the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pigsah National Forest, began when a brush burn pile escaped and spread to the surrounding area.
On Tuesday, there are 90 personnel on scene, from McDowell fire and emergency agencies, the N.C. Forest Service, the U.S. Forest Service and a Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) that took command on Monday morning. Additional resources continue to arrive to support fire operations.
Smoke dispersion is predicted to be good Wednesday, meaning smoke from the fire will be lifted up and away from local communities. However, the public can still expect to see smoke settling in valleys and low-lying areas overnight and in the early morning, especially along U.S.70 and U.S.221 in the West Marion and Pleasant Gardens areas.
The Woods Mountain Trail (TR 218) is closed to protect public and firefighter safety. This trail closure includes the portion of the Mountains- to-Sea Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway to U.S. 221.
N.C 80 remains temporarily closed to all but local traffic between Buck Creek Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Little Buck Road near Lake Tahoma.
While units work to contain the Sugar Cove Fire, the 911 Center received two back-to-back calls in reference to brush fires in the Marion area on Tuesday afternoon.
The first was reported at 12:24 p.m. at 808 Marina Drive in Marion, as personnel from Hankins Fire Department, Marion Fire Department and the N.C. Forest Service extinguished a brush fire climbing down a bank.
Homeowner Kimberly Killough, who was startled but unharmed at the scene of the incident, explained how the fire started.
“I was burning leaves and brush I’d pulled out of the lake in my yard, and there was no wind this morning. I’d no more than lit it and the wind suddenly picked up,” said Killough, who described the flames as being as high as 12 feet tall. “I didn’t use kerosene and I didn’t start with anything except a newspaper before it got windy.”
As Killough’s property was tended to, multiple calls were reported at the intersection of U.S. 221 and N.C. 226 northbound, where Woodlawn-Sevier and Ashford- North Cove fire departments and the N.C. Forest Service tackled another brush fire. Luckily, the flames, which carried upwards at the side of the mountain, were extinguished in minutes.
These recent calls are among five brush fires reported since Saturday afternoon, including one near Lake Lamar Road concurrent to the Sugar Cove fire and another at Mud Cut Road on Monday morning.
“We need a burning ban right now, because instances like these are scary,” said Killough.
The U.S. Forest Service has advised to use extreme caution with outdoor fires, as Western N.C. continues to be abnormally dry despite recent rain and snow.