Hundreds evacuated as NC wildfires grow to nearly 46,000 acres


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A firefighter was hurt and hospitalized on Monday evening as more than 1,000 firefighters battled dozens of wildfires over 45,000 acres in the North Carolina mountains.

The Party Rock Fire, which is threatening Lake Lure and nearby areas in Rutherford County, neared 3,500 acres after being less than 3,000 acres over the weekend.

The Party Rock Fire, which continues to advance west of Round Top Mountain, has forced about 1,000 people to evacuate Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, Bat Cave and Rumbling Bald Resort, officials say.

On Monday night, while surveying fire lines on the Party Rock Fire, a firefighter was injured when his ATV flipped, officials say. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and is expected to recover.

In addition to the Lake Lure-area evacuations, mandatory evacuations were already issued in parts of five other North Carolina counties: Henderson, Graham, Swain, Clay and Macon.

The fire near Lake Lure has grown from just 344 acres to 10 times that size in less than a week.

Gov. Pat McCrory visited the Lake Lure area on Monday and vowed to do “everything to fight” the wildfires.

“We have California wildfires in North Carolina,” McCrory said.

There are now more than 1,400 firefighters battling all of the nearly 20 fires in the North Carolina mountains, which are now over 45,000 acres.

A call went out statewide over the weekend for 50 four-person crews and many central North Carolina agencies sent firefighters and equipment.

There was some good news on Monday as a rockslide that threatened one area of the mountains was alleviated.

A 10-mile stretch of U.S. 19/74 through the Nantahala Gorge was reopened after the North Carolina DOT worked to make the road safe.

The largest blaze in the mountains — by far — is the Tellico Fire, which was combined with the Ferebee Fire over the weekend. The Tellico fire as of Monday encompasses 13,676 acres and is only 37 percent contained.

At the large 8,900-acre Boteler Fire in the Natahalia National Forest, more than 800 firefighters are assisting that fire.

On Monday, special crews were brought into the Boteler Fire to blast trees that have been weakened by insect infestation.

But fire crews ran into major problems on Monday when planes were unable to drop water because of heavy smoke.

Many fire crews are from central North Carolina, including Chapel Hill, Wendell, Carthage, Wake County and Orange County Rural Fire.

Also from the Triangle area are Holly Springs, Morrisville, Cary, Apex, Bay Leaff and Western Wake Fire Rescue.

“Its definitely rewarding. I mean just to be out there is an experience,” said Morrisville volunteer firefighter John Kauls. “Its getting to see another side of the country, not country but state that I get to see.”

“I’ve always been a volunteer,” said Morrisville fire Capt. Robbie Stanley. “And it just, it’s hard to get somebody to help you when you get in a bind, so I know how it feels, so it was just a natural thing.”

Most of these departments are sending one truck, either a fire engine or brush truck, with a crew of at least two to operate it. The firefighters going are experienced firefighters with training in fighting wildfires, officials say.

Western Wake sent a brush truck and two firefighters Sunday and they will work 12-hour shifts for seven days.

In Orange County, four trucks and about 16 firefighters were sent.  The Chapel Hill crew left Friday and are working 72 hour shifts. They are sending a fresh crew on Tuesday to switch out.

Bahama and Durham Fire Departments in Durham County sent two brush trucks and eight firefighters. They will be there for seven days working 72-hour shifts.

Here is a list of the some of the largest fires:

Tellico Fire – 13,676 acres
Boteler Fire – 8,925 acres
Maple Springs – 7,515 acres
Chestnut Knob – 3,900 acres
Party Rock Fire – 3,457 acres
Ferebee Fire – 3,175 acres
Knob Fire – 1,130 acres

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