NC wildfires near 50,000 acres as Lake Lure fire spreads to evacuated areas

Credit: Michele Schwartz
Credit: Michele Schwartz

LAKE LURE, NC — Flames moved into one area that was evacuated on Wednesday near Lake Lure as hundreds of firefighters continued to fight dozens of blazes in the North Carolina mountains.

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On Wednesday, as evacuations continued, the scorched acreage from all of the wildfires in North Carolina grew to 49,112 acres, according to officials.

The wildfire that has forced the most evacuations — more than 1,000 people — is the Party Rock Fire near Lake Lure in Rutherford County.

There hasn’t been a fire in the Lake Lure area in a long time, so the forest floor is thick with flammable material, and falling autumn leaves are encouraging the flames to spread, said Victoria Tillotson, a spokeswoman with the North Carolina Forest Service.

A total of 850 people were fighting the Party Rock blaze, which grew to more than 5,700 acres and was still just 19 percent contained, she said.

New areas were evacuated in Henderson County on Wednesday because of the Party Rock Fire. By 7 p.m. Wednesday, flames were already in the area that was evacuated, according to CBS North Carolina’s Amy Cutler.

The flames also have moved into Buncombe County and forced evacuations there.

A map released Wednesday night showed the wildfire’s progress into the evacuated areas.

Randle Montgomery never expected a wildfire to threaten Lake Lure, where he works, and Black Mountain, where he’s lived for 16 years.

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“The way this thing takes off, they’ll get it contained, and it just depends on the wind, but it’s turned so many times on us,” said Montgomery, 47. “And it’s got everybody pretty much on edge.”

On Wednesday, a charter school, Lake Lure Classical Academy, canceled classes for the rest of the week.

Andrew Wyatt Sr. chose to ignore the evacuation order and stay in his home. The fire was raging right across the road.

“I decided to stay here because its comfortable and easy for me to get around. I have plenty of food,” Wyatt said. “Just easier to stay put then it is trying to pack all this stuff and put it together. My body can’t, it just can’t do it.”

The disabled veteran said his children are staying in Hendersonville and that they’d come get him if he needs it.

Eight members of the Durham Fire Department  left Durham early Thursday to assist with the Party Rock Fire burning near Lake Lure. The two crews are expected to be gone for at least three days and will work 12-hour shifts, officials said.

Burning trees falling across creeks and roads are an ever-present threat.

“A tree drops across the creek and now you’ve got fire on the other side,” one firefighter explained.

The smoke is hiding the sun in town, but out at the fire’s edge, it appears blood red.

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Areas where the North Carolina wildfires are burning have received only 25 percent of normal rainfall over the last 60 days.

That means fires are able to spread quickly. One fire, the Muskrat Valley Fire, was spreading up to nearly a football field length in just an hour, fire officials explained.

Also Wednesday, Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, was put under a burn ban.

The burn ban, which includes recreational fires, comes nearly a week after a state of emergency was declared for 25 counties in western North Carolina because of the wildfires. State parks in the area had already banned fires for a number of days.

There was some good news on Wednesday. The Tellico Fire — at 13,679 acres, by far the largest in the state — is now 74 percent contained. About 460 firefighters are battling that blaze.

Here’s a list of some other fires and the number of acres burned at each:

  • Party Rock Fire — 5,714
  • Chestnut Knob Fire — 5,689
  • Tellico Fire — 13,679
  • Boteler Fire — 8,967
  • Maple Springs Fire — 7,705
  • Ferebee Fire — 3,175
  • Avey Branch Fire — 1,200
  • Knob Fire — 1,130

The Associated Press contributed to this report