NEBO — A wildfire near the base of Shortoff Mountain continued to grow Thursday night, doubling in size to an estimated 75 acres by midday Friday, according to information from the United States Forest Service.
The blaze, which is being called the White Creek Fire, was reported at 4 p.m. Thursday and is burning near Wolf Pit Road at the south end of Linville Gorge on the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The fire currently is 0 percent contained the USFS said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation
Thursday night, firefighters worked to reestablish fire lines on the south end of the fire with the goal of protecting private property, according to a release from the forest service. The Linville Gorge has an extensive fire history, allowing firefighters to fall back to existing lines established in the Table Rock (2013), Shortoff (2007) and Brushy Ridge (2000) fires. Friday, firefighters were conducting burn out operations to secure the southern edge of the fire, the release said.
Burke County Fire Marshal Mike Willis said the results of those fires in the area actually will make setting up shop to fight the White Creek Fire a little simpler. Dense, hard vegetation won’t stand in the way for firefighters like it did at the Chestnut Knob Fire at South Mountains State Park in November and December.
“The last time we had a fire up there was 2013 with the Table Rock Fire,” Willis said. “A lot of that vegetation is still in the early stages of growing, so we don’t have a dense population of hard forest right now. So, the fire lines that were cut during that time are still in fairly good shape.
“With the existing fire lines, they’re going to clean them up and help try to hold tight with what they had prior. All that’s still new and fresh and it’s not as hard as going into rough ground and cutting a new fire line. So, they can just work it faster because precautions and the fire lines have already been cut, so what they focused on (Friday) morning, especially on that southern and eastern side, is to try to keep it off private property and use the existing fire lines and just go back and reinforce that.”
One hundred firefighters were on scene at the blaze Friday, the USFS said. The USFS is leading fire response efforts, with support from the North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Burke County Emergency Management and North Carolina Emergency Management, the release said.
“(As far as) Burke County resources, we’re staffing one medical standby crew,” Willis said. “We’re making arrangements to do a night operation with our local fire departments just staffing one brush truck to help monitor. With (the forest services’) personnel in the woods, it’s kind of hard for them at night. So, we’ll try to pull a brush truck in at night like we did at South Mountains just to help maintain lines.”
Areas around Lake James and Morganton could experience smoke today and tonight, especially along N.C. Highway 181 between Oak Hill and Linville Falls, according to information from the USFS. Smoke also was expected impact areas to the north and east as winds shifted Friday evening. The USFS urged travelers to use caution when driving in smoke by using headlights and increasing following distances.
The USFS issued emergency closures Thursday that remained in place Friday for the Shortoff Trail (Trail No. 235) and the Mountains to Sea Trail (Trail No. 440) from Old N.C. Highway 105 at Pinnacles to the Table Rock Picnic Area. The public is asked to avoid the area.
Fire managers are looking at a larger area closure that would include the southern portion of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, the USFS said. Information on the larger closure was expected to be released Friday evening.
After an outpouring of community support for the Chestnut Knob Fire late last year, donations are not immediately needed for the White Creek Fire, Willis said. He said crews currently are operating self-sufficiently but if support is needed, information will be released at a later date.
Justin Epley can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8943.