Steven Cooke fire photos  (4).jpg

The South Mountain State Park wildfire has continued throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday to grow with the amount of personnel increasing as well.

Steven Cooke/ Special to The News Herald

As fire crews are still fighting the blaze in South Mountains State Park, the wildfire acreage consumed was up to 5,689 — an increase of 1,089 acres since Tuesday afternoon.

Containment is still at 30 percent, according to Ludie Bond, a public information officer for the Florida Forest Service.

The Florida "Green" Incident Management Team has set a public community information meeting for Thursday at 7 p.m. for the communities affected by the Chestnut Knob Fire burning in South Mountains State Park.

The meeting will be at the Enola Fire Department, located at 2510 Enola Road in Morganton. The community is encouraged to attend. The management team will be there to update the community on the fire and answer questions, according to Burke County officials.

There also is a prayer meeting set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on the Historic Burke County Courthouse Square.

The fire, which began in the Chestnut Knob area of the park, ignited Nov. 6 and was 75 acres by last Monday afternoon. The blaze has grown every day since, expanding to 150 acres last Tuesday, a little more than 150 last Wednesday, 400 by last Thursday, 1,450 acres on Friday, 1,961 acres by Saturday and 3,200 acres Sunday and 3,900 acres Monday, said a previous News Herald article.

Total large fire acreage from all wildfires in North Carolina is at just over 42,000 acres, an increase of 1,668 acres from Tuesday. Containment has increased on all fires, particularly those on Nantahala National Forest, according to a press release from the North Carolina Forest Service.

Aircraft dropped 12,000-plus gallons of fire retardant Tuesday to assist fire crews on the ground with containment efforts. Crews are focusing on structure protection and triage, the release said.

Personnel working the South Mountains wildfire have increased to 214 people from the 205 that were stationed Tuesday, adding fire crews from Arizona and Montana to the lineup of those helping, Bond said.

As of Wednesday, no more evacuations have been called for, according to Burke County Fire Marshal Mike Willis.

“We have not done any more evacuations,” he said. “We did a lot of back burning last night and those folks (on Bob’s Knob Road) are back at home and we are monitoring the fire lines around their residence.”

The containment percentage has stayed the same — 30 percent — due to the acreage and burn amount that has increased, she said.

“In some areas, we have had to back away and reestablish the box that we are working within, so we still look at where are the areas, where these lines are that we feel very secure that the fire will not cross over the area,” Bond said.

As of Wednesday night, crews were working a burnout on Rich Mountain Road, she said.

“I was hoping that the percentage of containment would increase, but they are still sticking with 30 percent right now,” Bond said. “The fire is not considered controlled until there is no visible flame and no visible smoke … that could be weeks.”

They have been implementing burnouts in Division J, known as Juliet, in the southwest area, Bond said.

“We have been lighting (man-made) fire and it has been holding well,” she said.

The burnout process is where they put in a containment line by hand or dozer and they will light the vegetation and have the man-made fire go in and meet the existing fire instead of having the fire come to the line and possibly jump over it, Bond said.

Crews have burned out portions of the division of I (India) on the north end of the state park as well.

Divisions of the park titled Bravo, Charlie and Delta on the eastern and southeastern side are still being moped up as stated in a previous News Herald article.

“When we have burned in here, you still see smoke and flame in areas that are still kind of hot and mope up is when you go in and cool all that down, whether it is with water or water retardant, because you want to see no smoke and no flames,” Bond said.

They will still have the same air resources today with the three single engine air tankers and two helicopters, Bond said.

“The primary (aerial) work will be in the same areas which will be India, Juliet and Delta, so up on the north area and on the south perimeter,” she said. “That is where you will see water drops and retardant drops.”

The forestry service has been running day and night resources for the past few nights.

“We are increasing the number of night resources, especially up here in India (Division I) where Bob’s Knob is,” Bond said. “Last night, we did a lot of burn out operations over near Bob’s Knob to get a lot of that fuel burned.”

Night time is when they generally do more of the burn out because flames are virtually non-existent and the humidity is high, she said.

On Wednesday night, humidity levels were at 99 percent, which helps crews out since the air will not be dry and the fire behavior will not be as erratic, Bond said.

“That is a lot of humidity,” she said. “At night, when the dispersion is down and the humidity is up and the winds are down, you get a lot more work done.”

Bond says there will be more resources coming in, including (fire) engines and leaf blowers.

“The dispersion is going to be low, so it is going to keep the smoke down lower,” she said.

Smoke dispersion index is a measure of the atmosphere’s diluting power, according to www.weather.gfc.state.ga.us.

“When dispersion levels are higher, it pulls smoke up, but also makes your flames go up higher,” Bond said. “When it is lower, it pushes that smoke down lower and the flame heights are lower.”

Bond says fog levels are to be high and, with the mixture of that and the dispersion being low tonight, Bond says that makes for dangerous driving situations.

“The winds are still going to be light and variable, which is good because that gives us the opportunity to get more work in with the lines,” Bond said. “It is those days when you have those gusty winds pushing the fire that you are having to react to that wind with a winter-like variable, then you can focus more on getting these fire lines in and very well established.”

For more information on the prayer service, contact Daphne Martin at 828-448-8094. To send and receive information about the wildfire, email chestnutknobfire@gmail.com or call 828-764-9380.

To register for reverse 911, go to bit.ly/2fKPvya or text "burkealerts" to 828-201-3877 to register a cellphone.

Staff Writer Jonelle Bobak can be reached at jbobak@morganton.com or 828-432-8907.

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