ELIZABETHTOWN — No cause has been identified for the wildfire that scorched more than 500 acres of Carolina Bay wetlands near White Lake in Bladen County.
“It’s still under investigation right now. We were more concerned with getting it out,” Chris Meggs, a fire team public information officer, said Wednesday. “Our investigator was out there today, but I have not heard any of his findings, yet.”
Firefighters have entered the mopping-up phase for the fire that started Monday and burned 553 acres in an area near N.C. 53, N.C. 51 and N.C. 210, Meggs said. The 24 N.C. Forest Service firefighters from across Eastern North Carolina are monitoring hot spots and fortifying containment lines.
”We really don’t expect it to go anywhere,” Meggs said.
The mop-up phase will continue until the firefighters are comfortable about returning control of the land to the county, he said. Even then, the firefighters will continue to monitor the area.
Strong winds allowed the fire to grow to cover about 300 acres on Tuesday before fire lines were completed, according to the N.C. Forest Service. Firefighters used strategic firing on about 250 acres to burn out fuels between fire lines and the main fire, which increased the fire’s footprint to about 553 acres.
“When you have a fire in a Carolina Bay, like we have here, it is incredibly hard to get a burn line because of the organic soil,” Meggs said.
Organic soil is formed from years of fallen leaves and other forest debris that becomes compressed and forms soil. Fire can spread through organic soil because of the combustible material in the soil, which can be deep.
“I have seen it go down as far 20 to 25 feet,” Meggs said.
No structures were damaged by the blaze, he said. The fire was five miles from the nearest highway, and the nearest structure was four miles from the flames.
“There’s still plenty of smoke because of smoldering stumps, soil and debris,” he said. “It’ll probably stay that way until we get some significant rain.”
Motorists should be aware of the smoke, Meggs said. The smoke could reach the highways and decrease visibility, particularly if the smoke reaches a highway in the morning hours when the colder air forces the smoke onto the highway.
Meggs urged motorists on highways near the burn area to be alert. They should go slow and turn on their headlamps if they see smoke over the roadway. Motorists should consider using alternate routes until the smoke threat is gone.
March, April, and May are traditionally the worst months for wildfires in North Carolina and residents are encouraged to use caution when using fire, according to the Forest Service.
The firefighters will get a bit of help from the weather, as rain is in the forecast for the weekend.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]