BURKE COUNTY, N.C. -- Arson is suspected in most of the 19 fires now burning in the Nantahala National Forest in the far western counties of Western North Carolina, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“Only one fire has been attributed to lightning strike, the Boteler Fire, which was first discovered Oct. 25," said to Adam Solt, public information officer with the Southern Red Team. The Boteler Fire is burning on the Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest, 15 miles east of Murphy,
The fire is in a roadless area west of Chunky Gal Mountain near Hayesville, and is more than 4,700 acres and is 10 percent contained.
The rest of the fires are believed to be human-caused, such as campfires left unattended or cigarettes tossed without being completed extinguished, Solt said.
“The majority we believe to be started by arson,” said Cathy Dowd, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in Asheville. “Some signs of arson are the presence of accelerants – something used to start a fire quickly. Another sign is the absence of a fire ring. With a campfire, you will see a fire ring.”
According to unnamed people on the front lines, arson investigators are now on site at wildfires in Burke, McDowell, and Caldwell Counties.
Sources tell NBC Charlotte that they found materials at the scene of the fires that makes them suspicious that an arsonist is to blame.
According to people on scene, investigators grew suspicious when fires kept popping up in different spots.
Late Thursday night, the wildfire burning in the South Mountains State Park in Burke County jumped the containment lines. Dry conditions and heavy winds in the area leave firefighters fearing that it will have grown to more than 2,000 acres by Friday morning. Sources tell NBC Charlotte that is one of the fires that may be linked to arson.
Dowd said Forest Service law enforcement is lead investigation of all fires that start on forest service land in North Carolina, in conjunction with local sheriff’s departments.
All fires are being investigated for suspected arson. Call the National Forests of North Carolina at 828-257-4200 if you have information about people setting fires or bragging about setting fires. If you see someone starting a fire, call 911.