LAKE LURE, N.C. – The wildfires scorching the western half of North Carolina are expected to be a “very difficult challenge” over the coming months, according to Governor Pat McCrory.
The fires have burned for over a week in the Carolinas, with over 1,000 emergency personnel battling the flames.
With most of the North Carolina mountains experience severe drought conditions, McCrory’s biggest fear is that the wildfires will continue to rage throughout the winter.
“The predictions are we could have these challenges through March, with the predicted dry weather conditions,” McCrory said. “We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. We’ll be over-prepared and hope to be underwhelmed.”
As of Monday morning, McCrory said thousands of acres have been burned in the state to the tune of $10 million. The Party Rock fire is only 15 percent contained has grown to more than 3,400 acres, which pales in comparison to the Tellico Fire, which has burned over 13,000 acres, according to the state’s latest report.
The Party Rock Fire Department expressed their concern in a statement Monday saying the ongoing drought and leaf fire support the spread of the fire and make it more resistant to control.
Due to the extremely dry conditions, natural containment of the flames has proven to be an extraordinary challenge. As a result, crews are being forced to use roads and highways as barriers. McCrory said creeks are also being used, but smaller tributaries have had their banks jumped by the fire.
On Saturday, FEMA announced that it has authorized federal funds to reimburse the costs to the state to battle the Party Rock Fire in Rutherford and Buncombe counties. The authorization makes FEMA grant funding to pay 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs of controlling the fire.
McCrory said Monday that eight major fires, including Lake Lure, which is now the second-highest priority fire in America, are burning in North Carolina, with dozens of smaller ones across the state, including a potential major fire in Burke County.
“We’re very concerned about the Burke County fire right now. They’re about five days behind where we are right now here,” said McCrory. “They are seeing some of the same dynamics as this fire. This type of fire can occur anywhere in the west.”
The Governor said the biggest priority is the safety of responders on the ground battling the fires and stressed patience for those who are affected by the fires.
“Our biggest issue with communications right now is encouraging patience. It reminds me of the Hurricane Matthew issue,” McCrory said. “Right now, people just expect this to be dealt with immediately, but God doesn’t do that. This is going to be a very difficult challenge.”