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The Daily Tar Heel

Western NC wildfires pose concerns as they rack up $15 million costs

A wildfire burns in the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness Area in Maple Springs. Photo Courtesy of Steve Norman, U.S. Forest Service.

A wildfire burns in the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness Area in Maple Springs. Photo Courtesy of Steve Norman, U.S. Forest Service.

Approximately 2,000 personnel from around the country are involved in combating the fires, which have cost an estimated $15 million, the press release said.

“Firefighters and emergency management personnel continue facing difficult conditions throughout western North Carolina,” McCrory said. “We are working with local and federal partners to provide any available support to help protect our first responders, citizens and property.”

The press release said many evacuation orders have been lifted, but mandatory evacuations are still in place for Rutherford County. An evacuation was ordered in Henderson County at noon Wednesday.

Joe Mazzeo, spokesperson for the Southern Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, said the fires spread due to wind.

“In the middle of last week, we experienced a wind event, and that resulted in rapid fire spread and significant growth in almost all fires,” he said.

According to the press release, the wildfires have threatened more than 1,800 structures and investigations concerning the cause of the wildfires will continue.

Mazzeo said the most common cause of wildfires in the state is arson, followed by equipment and debris burning.

Mary Bell Lunsford, spokesperson for the Joint Information Center, said the wildfires have had a significant impact.

“There has been quite an impact from this, and the drought here is pretty unprecedented,” she said.

McCrory said dry conditions in the area could cause the fires to last several months.

Steve Norman, a research ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, said significant rainfall is not expected in the near future.

“The drought that we’ve been having now for quite a while, in some places since spring, there’s no reason to think that’s going to end any time soon,” he said.

Norman said smoke continues to be a concern for residents.

“The key point that matters for people living here is the extended smoky conditions that are starting to bother some people,” he said. “There are some serious health concerns on the minds of a lot of residents in western North Carolina.”

Lunsford said the smoke is specifically affecting young people, the elderly and people with medical conditions.

“I think it’s really hard on them with the smoke,” Lunsford said. “We do have people that are informing them every day regarding the air quality and what they can expect. They should stay indoors if it’s very smoky, especially if they have health problems.”


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