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Beach fires, a popular tradition on the Outer Banks, are suddenly banned. Here’s why

The romantic image of glowing beach fires crackling against a background of Atlantic surf has been halted on a large stretch of the Outer Banks.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore declared a ban on the popular tradition “effective immediately” due to the worsening drought conditions along the North Carolina coast. Nearby Cape Lookout National Seashore also posted a ban, as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

“Open fires are not permitted in any area of the Seashore until further notice,” said a Thursday post on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Facebook page.

“The fire ban is a result of abnormally dry conditions that may increase the risk of beach fires spreading to dune vegetation, forested areas, or developed neighborhoods adjacent to Seashore beaches.”

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is known for allowing beach fires — with a permit — throughout the park, including oceanfront areas. Regulations cover everything from time of day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) to the size of the pit (no larger than three feet in diameter) to what can be burned (no trash).

The park’s heightened concern comes after a wildfire in March burned 5.18 acres of Cape Hatteras park land, destroying plants and shrubs on dunes between the ocean and Inside Road.

A March 26 update on Facebook revealed “the fire was not caused naturally,” nor was it due to “a discarded cigarette.” The culprit was never caught.

On the Outer Banks, wildfires can spread easily with the help of the ocean winds and dry sea grasses.

“If visitors had not reported the wildfire after observing it, there is a chance that it could have spread to the village of Frisco and caused harm to life and damage to property,” park officials said at the time.

The United States Drought Monitor shows much of eastern N.C. is dealing with either abnormally dry conditions or a “moderate drought.”

Abnormally dry conditions mean plant life is not only dry enough to burn easily, but is slow growing back, says Drought.gov.

The U.S. Forest Service also announced Thursday that it was banning open burning in 18 eastern N.C. counties due to “hazardous forest fire conditions.”

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