Croatan wildfire now 98 percent under control

CRAVEN COUNTY - U.S. Forest Service officials stated that the wildfire on the Croatan National Forest is now at 98 percent containment and remains at 21,331 acres in size. Recent rain and ongoing water pumping operations further contained the fire. Full containment is still expected by Saturday June 30.

The majority of the necessary water has been pumped into canals along containment lines. The water is being pumped 24 hours a day and will help suppress ground fires caused by the surface fire that ignited peat laden soils.

A closure of the fire area, including roads and trails, remains in place. However, Catfish Lake Road has been reopened as of 8a.m. Wednesday June 27th with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour.

Rain and firefighting efforts have helped significantly reduce smoke from the fire, and officials with the N.C. Division of Air Quality say that monitors are no longer detecting elevated amounts of particle pollution. State air quality officials will not issue additional smoke advisories, unless monitors detect changes in particle pollution near the fire that warrant a health advisory.

Smoke impacts to area roadways are unlikely. If smoke was to be present the New Bern and Havelock areas would be impacted. Increased smoke may exist during night time and early morning hours. Motorists should exercise caution on area roads when smoky conditions prevail.


PREVIOUS STORY: Crews Move Into 'Flooding' Phase

A helicopter drops water from the air to fight what's burning underground. Smoke is mostly what's left of the Croatan Wildfire, but what is burning presents a bigger threat.  NewsChannel12 talked to wildlife biologist, Rachelle Powell, who tells us the decomposing plant matter known as peat creates concern.

"If it happens to be dry underneath and we haven't had enough rainfall or enough water, then, it can actually be dry pretty far down," said Powell

There could be up to six feet of peat in some areas of the forest and the fire could burn underground for days.  There's also a possibility the fire could resurface miles away from any containment line so crews are flooding the area to keep that from happening.

"We're going to be flooding the area of ground fire to take away any dry peat so nothing will burn further and the smoke will go away," said Don Simon, Public Information Officer for the Croatan Wildfire

He tells us this is next phase to put the fire out and with any battle there is always a plan.

"Our main objective is that the fire is contained. Second, it goes out. Of course everyone gets out in one piece and no one gets hurt, the public or the firefighters. We're batting one hundred percent," said Simon.

The machines pump 7,500 gallons of water per minute, crews will work around the clock until the smoke clears.


PREVIOUS STORY: Crews have wildfire 70 percent controlled

Firefighters have held their containment line around the 21,000-acre wildfire in the Croatan National Forest, and now that blaze is 70 percent controlled.

"Now that we have a containment line, our intent is that it will not grow any larger," Don Simon, U.S Forest Service officer, said.

Crews were able to get a containment line around the fire late Tuesday. Helicopters are pouring water on the flames while tractor plows are working on fire breaks.

Back fires are still popping up in some areas, shooting flames close to the road.

"We're hoping to have this thing under control in a little while, but as far as exactly when, I'm not prepared to say," Simon said.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will investigate why what started as a controlled burn got out of control. The review will include checking the burn plan, weather conditions and any aspects that allowed the fire to get out of control.

The original plan was for a controlled burn of 1,500 acres.

Authorities say the fire which was started last week got out of control and spread last weekend. It continues to burn but there is a containment line around it.

The Forest Service says it has cost about $300,000 so far to fight the blaze.

No injuries have been reported.


PREVIOUS STORY: Croatan fire grows to 21,000 acres

Posted: June 20, 2012

The fire in the Croatan National Forest in eastern North Carolina has grown to more than 21,000 acres.

About 100 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service are at the scene.

Crews were able to get a containment line around the fire late Tuesday but the fire is only about 20 percent controlled. Helicopters are pouring water on the flames while tractor plows are working on fire breaks.

Because of smoke and ash from the fire, air quality advisories have been issued for 12 counties in eastern North Carolina.

The fire began as a controlled burn in the 160,000-acre forest last week. On Saturday, about 220 acres had been burned. Controlled burns are used to burn fuel and small shrubs on forest floors so they don't feed larger fires later.


PREVIOUS STORY: Croatan wildfire more than doubles in size

Posted: June 18, 2012

A fire in the Croatan National Forest has more than doubled in size in a day to about 8,000 acres, prompting an advisory Monday warning five eastern counties in North Carolina of possibly unhealthy air.

A prescribed burn in the center of the 160,000-acre forest left about 2,800 acres burning Sunday but has since expanded. The fire is located between Havelock and New Bern in Craven County.

Flames have spread from Sheep Ridge Wilderness, a swampy area of low vegetation, to into the rest of the forest, said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Pancho Smith.

"It's gone onto some other property, but still within our containment boundaries," Smith said. "We're working on our containment strategy."

Firefighters are attacking the flames though a method called burnout, or backfire. Crews have ignited the brush on Catfish Lake Road to create a line of fire they can control, Smith said. No structures or private property are threatened, officials said.

"We can hold the fire and the lines we put in place," Smith said. "We have tractor plows there so we can actually control it. And we burn out from there so that when the main fire gets there, it won't have any place to go."

Mechanized equipment isn't allowed in the wilderness area so firefighters are battling the blaze indirectly, he said. About 75 firefighters are involved.

Firefighters are concerned not only about the flames, but also the smoke, Smith said.

The state Division of Quality issued a Code Orange alert for residents of Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow and Pamlico counties, meaning the air could be unhealthy for sensitive groups. Air quality monitors as far west as Raleigh, about 125 miles away, have shown increased particle pollution due to smoke.

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