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Crews work to contain Burke wildfire

By Steve Lyttle and Adam Bell
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

A wildfire in Pisgah National Forest in Burke County grew to 1,800 acres Thursday even as firefighters made progress in fighting the blaze, authorities said.

The fire is about 40 percent contained, although authorities are hopeful that rain in the area Sunday and Monday will provide additional help. Close to 100 firefighters, included crews from Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky, worked to fight the fire.

Authorities used “burn-out tactics” Thursday to literally fight fire with fire, said Deborah Walker of the U.S. Forest Service.

Such operations involve establishing containment lines in the ground, then starting a fire moving in the direction of the active fire. The new fire creates a barrier that the active fire cannot go past, because the burned out areas remove fuels that can carry a fire, Walker said.

Smoke from the fire was clearly visible Thursday morning in the Burke County towns of Morganton and Valdese.

The fire broke out Monday in the Table Rock Mountain area in Linville Gorge.

The blaze spread rapidly Wednesday morning, from 40 to 100 acres. Amid the burn-out activities, the fire grew to 1,800 acres Thursday, Walker said.

No homes or structures are threatened, and there have been no injuries.

An Outward Bound facility is closest to the fire, and the U.S. Forest Service has asked crews from the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department to station crews and equipment in that area. Staff members from Outward Bound left the facility Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, Boone-area resident Lynn Willis spent about four hours watching and photographing the blaze from the western rim of Linville Gorge, safely out of the fire’s reach.

“You could hear the trees vaporizing, crashing and falling to the ground,” he said. “You couldn’t take your eyes off it.”

Willis moved to North Carolina from Arizona years ago in part to be able to rock climb in the gorge, which he said offers some of the best rock climbing in the country. But he is concerned about what some of the rock quality might be after the fire.

Walker said several trails in the Table Rock Mountain and Shortoff Mountain areas are closed to the public, as is the Table Rock Picnic Area. Additional trails were closed Thursday in Linville Gorge. And a no-fly zone has been established over the gorge.

Smoke from the fire is expected through the weekend, with winds from the south pushing the smoke to northern communities during the day. Smoke will settle in the canyons at night.

Authorities have not determined what started the fire. Anyone with information is urged to call the Grandfather Ranger District office at 828-652-2144.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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