Southeast wildfires consume thoughts of WNC residents

Major drought and dry weather reaching across the southeast has made is easy for wildfires to start. According to the US Forest Service, 59 out of the 61 wildfires were located in the southeast during November. There are currently no active wildfires in Western North Carolina, according to the West Macon Volunteer Fire Department. The biggest wildfires in North Carolina were the Tellico fire in the Nantahala National Forest, the Boteler fire in Clay County and the Party Rock fire in Lake Lure which are all more than 95 percent contained.

The Dick’s Creek wildfire, as of Nov. 22, 2016, is 99 percent contained. The fire was located off of 441 South, two miles outside of Sylva. The Dick’s Creek wildfire started on Oct. 23 and burned 729 acres of land. The owners of the land that burned off Dick’s Creek Road live in Asheville and didn’t know about the fire until they saw it on the news.

“A friend that lives nearby called me and texted me pictures of the land on fire. I was shocked. I thought it was caused by bear hunters, but I’ve heard it’s from the burning of leaves,” said Betsy Turpin, daughter of the landowners. It is unclear of what exactly caused the fire, but authorities have said it was human-caused.

The wildfire in Gatlinburg, also called Chimney Tops two, started Wednesday, Nov. 23 and has been confirmed as a human-caused fire. The fire is currently only 58 percent contained. There have been 14 confirmed deaths so far and many homes and businesses have been destroyed. 

“Approximately 1,700 structures have been affected by the fire including many homes in the Cobbly Knob area. The rain has helped, but the fire is still less than halfway contained,” Marci Claude, public information manager at Gatlinburg Fire Department, said in a phone interview Monday, Dec. 5.

Many businesses have been closed for nearly two weeks, but plan on reopening this Wednesday, Dec. 7. The town of Gatlinburg will hopefully open back up to the public by Friday, Dec. 9.

There were 15 fires in the month of November in Cherokee that were caused by arson that have been contained and a few small fires in Cullowhee that have been put out. A burn ban was in effect since the first week of November, prohibiting all open burning even if a permit is acquired. The ban has been lifted for Jackson County as of Monday, Dec. 5.

According to current national drought report, there are more than 23 million people in the Southeast living in drought conditions. As of Nov. 22, WNC is still experiencing extreme drought conditions.  To keep up with the air quality in your area, you can find it on the Daily Air Quality Forecast website.

Below is a wildfire PSA put together by WCU broadcasting students, Logan Day, Hayden McAteer and Jessica Wooten.