CARTERET COUNTY - The wildfire in the Croatan National Forest has been fully contained, the Forest Service announced on Wednesday. But firefighters are still on scene, working to extinguish the blaze.
According to Forest Service officials, the wildfire, located near Highway 24 and Nine Mile Road in Carteret County, was 100 percent contained as of late Tuesday afternoon. They said 401 acres have been burned on national forest land and 24 acres have been burned on private land.
The wildfire, which started Sunday night, may have been caused by a person, not a controlled burn., investigators said. Arson is a possibility, said James Cherry, the district fire management officer. The investigation is ongoing.
"We're just trying to keep it contained and keep the smoke off Highway 24," Chery said.
One house and several businesses are nearby the forest, including Absolute Auto Care, owned by Glenn Cloer.
"I came in about 7:30 and noticed a lot of smoke on the highway," Cloer said. "Then of course, I noticed the smoldering forest behind me."
Cloer's business was not affected by the fire, but he said it was too close for comfort.
"It's kind of concerning," he said. "You've got boats back here full of fuel."
Nearly 20 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina Forest Service, volunteer fire departments and the Department of Defense are working to battle the blaze.
Cherry said fire crews had to be careful of several red-cockaded woodpecker trees while fighting the fire. The red-cockacked woodpecker is currently endangered.
No injuries or property damage have been reported. But Patsy Pond Hiking Trail is closed.
Cherry said a prescribed fire in the area, about three years ago, helped protect the forest from the fire. He said without the burn, the blaze would have spread farther and faster.
"Prescribed fires are an important role that plays on the ecosystem," Cherry said. "For the ecosystem, it's very important, but also to protect those structures along Highway 24."