Fire forces Lake Lure evacuations

LAKE LURE -- Limited evacuations have begun around Lake Lure as the Party Rock Fire burned for the fourth day, the N.C. Forest Service announced Tuesday afternoon.

The agency expected about 25-35 homes in the Quail Ridge and Huntington Road areas of the Rumbling Bald Resort would be affected, according to a news release. Emergency personnel were going door to door to inform homeowners.

Forest Service firefighters have been working to reinforce containment lines and conduct burnout operations on the Party Rock Fire since it began on Nov. 5. By Tuesday the fire increased to about 344 acres after starting at 60 acres, according to the N.C. Forest Service. Firefighters had 30 percent of the fire contained.

A state of emergency was declared late Monday for the town of Lake Lure as flames began moving toward areas of Rumbling Bald Resort, according to Lake Lure Mayor Bob Keith. The declaration allowed for evacuations, restriction of access to the area of the emergency and initiated the town’s emergency action plan.

A pre-evacuation notification was provided Monday to some homeowners in the path of the fire.

The N.C. Forest Service and town of Lake Lure are updating the fire's status, along with evacuation orders, at the town's website and Facebook page.

Party Rock Fire said folks will notice "more aircraft flying in the air, as we now have seven aviation resources devoted to this fire," according to a press release.

Not only have 80 firefighters been battling flames in Lake Lure, but about 550 firefighters have been fighting 18 wildfires on U.S. Forest Service land with additional crews from across the country coming in to provide support.

Officials say this is a historic year for wildfires as several counties in Western North Carolina remain in a severe drought with little rainfall in the upcoming forecast.

Rutherford County Board of Elections told NBC Charlotte that polling place for precincts in Lake Lure is away from the fire and did not report any problems Tuesday.

In Lake Lure, dense ground smoke surrounded the area of the fire Tuesday due to an atmospheric inversion, said spokeswoman Victoria Tillotson with the N.C. Forest Service. Under normal conditions smoke normally rises but it is being held in place by the inversion, she added.

As the inversion was expected to lift Tuesday, fire aviation personnel were going to have a better chance to view the fire from above. Additionally, once the inversion lifts, fire behavior will increase.

"It is important for all are residents to maintain situational awareness of the fire as the day progresses," Tillotson said.

Due to the increased complexity of the fire, a N.C. Forest Service Incident Management Team was ordered and is expected to arrive Wednesday.

The team will take over the incident on Thursday. About 20 personnel could be placed onsite to assist the 80 firefighters that were battling flames Tuesday.

Sections of the fire have been spreading due to changing weather conditions, very challenging topography, and difficulties to contain the blaze, according to the N.C. Forest Service.

The severe drought coupled with no rainfall in the near future has created terrible weather conditions for fires. Additionally, as the leaves are beginning to fall more fuel is on the ground for the fire to burn, Tillotson said.

Firefighters have had to work even harder to maintain containment lines with leaves and trees falling, which creates more fuel to the fire, she added.

As firefighters have started to dig into the ground there is also no moisture, which normally provides some relief.

Helicopters from the Forestry Service have also been dropping water on the fire each day from nearby Lake Lure since the fire broke out.

The Rumbling Bald Climbing Access and all backcountry accesses to Rumbling Bald Mountain remain closed until further notice.

Authorities are also asking drivers to be cautious if they must travel on Boys Camp Road.

The smell and sight of smoke here are very thick. Visibility in some areas is less than ideal.

Officials are asking residents or passersby to not call 911 if they see smoke.

The 80 firefighting personnel assigned to the fire represent multiple cooperating agencies including: N.C. State Parks, N.C. Forest Service, Lake Lure Fire Department, Rutherford County Emergency Management, Lake Lure Police Department, Chimney Rock Fire Department, Bills Creek Fire Department, Fairfield Fire Department, Broad River Fire Department, and Green Hill Fire Department.

A burning ban is in effect for all of Western North Carolina until further notice. Individuals are asked to avoid this area if at all possible.

Anyone wishing to provide water donations is asked to take water and Gatorade donations to the Lake Lure Town Hall front breezeway.

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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