UPDATE: The North Carolina Forest Service announced on Dec. 1 that the cause of the Pilot Mountain fire was “an escaped campfire in an undesignated area.” The original story is below.
Efforts to contain a massive forest fire on Pilot Mountain in North Carolina have continued into a fifth day.
More than 50 firefighters initially responded to the blaze — which reportedly started on Grindstone Trail — on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 27, according to the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department. Dry and windy weather have fueled the fire’s rapid spread on the mountain and hampered efforts to control it.
The park — which is located in Surry and Yadkin counties, about 100 miles north of Charlotte — remains closed until further notice, according to North Carolina State Parks and Recreation.
Here’s the latest on the fire as of Wednesday, Dec. 1.
How large is the fire?
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, the fire’s “footprint” had reached 1,050 acres, the North Carolina Forest Service said.
That’s more than double the blaze’s reach as of the morning of Monday, Nov. 29, when officials told local news outlets that the fire had spread to about 500 acres.
As of the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 28, the fire had spread to about 180 acres, according to the state parks department.
Fire officials have said no homes have been damaged in the fire or been evacuated, WFMY reported.
What caused the fire?
Officials don’t know the exact cause.
But officials previously told local news outlets that the fire was “human-caused” in some way.
“We know it wasn’t lightning, it was a human factor in some capacity,” North Carolina Forest Service Ranger Jimmy Holt told WFMY. “That could be machine use, an unextinguished campfire, that could be children, debris burning, a faulty chain saw, a faulty catalytic converter. There’s a big window there.”
Additionally, weather conditions have worsened the situation. Much of North Carolina is experiencing “abnormally dry” weather. The North Carolina Forest Service issued a statewide open burn ban and “canceled all burning permits” as of 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29.
“It is fall wildfire season in North Carolina, and we are seeing wildfire activity increase due to dry conditions,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in a news release. “With these ongoing conditions, a statewide burn ban is necessary to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading quickly. Our top priority is always to protect lives, property and forestland across the state.”
The Forest Service said about 20% of the fire was contained as of 3 p.m. Nov. 30.
“That means 20% of those containment lines, we feel we could walk away from and they’d need no attention,” Holt told the Winston-Salem Journal.
Officials said during a community meeting on Nov. 30 that crews have dug containment lines in anticipation that the fire will stay within those boundaries, WXII reported. The approach is designed to minimize damage to the land and to the people who own homes near the area and to minimize risks for firefighters.
Holt told the Winston-Salem Journal that firefighters “have a good handle on this.”
“Of course, with the conditions we’re facing right now, it’s far from over,” Holt said, according to the outlet. “There’s a lot of work that’s left to be done.”
How to help
The public has been asked to stay out of the way of firefighters on scene and to be careful when driving nearby.
“Travelers on Highway 52 around Pilot Mountain State Park should slow down, and drivers should turn on headlights when they encounter smoky conditions,” the Forest Service said.
The Town of Pilot Mountain said “local first responders are so appreciative and pleasantly overwhelmed with all of the support they have received” but have asked the community to “hold off on all donations.”
“Looking for a way to support the Pilot Mountain State Park? Please consider supporting the Friends of Sauratown Mountains 501c3,” the town said. “This group helps our local parks by providing funds and volunteers for trails, exhibits, conservation, and more!”
Mayor Evan Cockerham posted Nov. 29 on Facebook that “the town of Pilot Mountain is still open for business.”
“Our local stores will need your support as the mountain is a big economic driver for our region,” he wrote. “Please come out to support them. Downtown Pilot is a special place.”