The Pine Bluff Commercial

Wildfires spur evacuations from campgrounds

PINNACLE, N.C. — Wildfires have prompted campgrounds in North Carolina and Tennessee to evacuate starting Sunday while firefighters prepared for high winds and low humidity on Monday, though officials hoped for some help from expected rain.

The National Weather Service’s office in Morristown, Tennessee, issued a red flag warning into today in the East Tennessee mountains and southwest North Carolina, with winds between 25 and 50 mph Monday afternoon, increasing to 40 to 70 mph on Monday night with 80 mph gusts possible in some places.

In North Carolina, a youth camp and about a dozen homes were evacuated Sunday evening as the fire spread in the Sauratown Mountains in Stokes County, said Jimmy Holt, a ranger with the N.C. Forest Service, on Monday. About 50 children were safely evacuated from the Mountain Top Youth Camp, and residents of about 12 threatened homes were advised to evacuate as the fire spread, Holt said. No injuries or damage to structures have been reported.

By Monday, the fire that was first reported Saturday evening had spread to 300 acres with little containment, and at least a hundred people are involved in fighting the blaze, including firefighters from Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana, who are used to this type of ground, Holt said.

“They are some of the best firefighters in the country that we have right here right now,” he said.

Rain forecast for today could help contain the fire.

“It’s going to be a challenge today,” Holt said. “Yesterday was a very, very tough day we had on the mountain and today is going to be another tough day.”

Firefighters on the Cherokee National Forest, which spans 10 counties along the Tennessee border, are securing containment lines on existing fires before the wind event, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release.

In Tennessee, authorities also ordered an evacuation at a campground on Whitwell Mountain as a wildfire stemming from an escaped campfire spread, Marion County Emergency Management Director Steve Lamb told news outlets.

“It’s a challenging terrain; it’s hard to access the areas where the fire is,” Lamb said. “We’re just having to work it out as we can; it will be some time.”

About 20 acres had burned, Lamb said on Monday, and the Whitwell Police Department said in a statement on social media that a helicopter was being used in an effort to help contain and to extinguish the blaze.

The red flag warning also led officials at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to announce that it would close campgrounds and most roads on Monday as a precaution to protect visitors, employees and park resources.

“Employee and visitor safety is our only priority,” said Cassius Cash, a superintendent. “We understand these closures are an inconvenience, but we are trying to eliminate as much risk as possible during this dangerous weather event.”

The park said it would issue an update today about the status of its campgrounds and roads.

In southern West Virginia, a 2,200-acre wildfire in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve was fully contained Monday, the National Park Service said. The cause of the fire, which has burned since Nov. 6, remains under investigation.