Code Red air quality alert issued for Charlotte

More residents were ordered to evacuate the area of the Party Rock Fire on Tuesday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Where there is fire, there is smoke. A haze hanging over our region has brought the air quality to a dangerous code red by the EPA.  

Particulate matter from the wildfires in Western North Carolina prompted the EPA to declare the air a "Code Red" for Wednesday, meaning the air quality is at a level authorities say is unhealthy.

More residents were ordered to evacuate as the Party Rock Fire continues to grow, now stretching more than 4,400 acres. The fire has already forced more than 1000 people from their homes. 

As residents move out, firefighters move in. A staging area at the Lake Lure Town Hall is now a base camp for hundreds of firefighters from across North Carolina and as far as Oklahoma and Oregon. 

"They have so many departments and so many resources and there's more coming," said Charlotte firefighter Bill Sanders. 

Sanders has been fighting this fire since Monday night. His team is on the evening shift. A 20-year veteran of the Charlotte Fire Department, he says he has never come up against a fire like this.

"There were a couple times when the fire started coming over the hill and building up and running up trees and stuff and we're used to buildings," he said. "It just walks down and burns everything."

Urban departments like Charlotte are focused on protecting homes.  

"Their sole purpose is taking care of the structures and doing what they know to do," said Victoria Tilloston, with the NC Forest Service. "Then we have the wildfire aspect and we have crews from all over the country, Oregon, Florida, Oklahoma and everywhere in between."

Sanders got to experience that firsthand Monday night.   

"Last night, we turned this side of the mountain into a waterfall to keep the houses from burning," he said.

No structures have been lost as crews managed to get the fire to go around a home. However, the fire is just 19% contained. 

"The fire has burnt down to the road," said Tilloston.

Highway 64 acts as a roadblock for the Party Rock Fire, but the dry and rugged terrain still provides plenty of fuel for this growing fire. Crews put water on hot spots and are trying to keep dry areas wet and cool to prevent new sparks. 

"This fire is so challenging because the fuel is so extremely dry, as well as the terrain is very steep; those two combined, we are not able to put tractors or people in places that we normally would," she said.

Still, they are manning this fire 24 hours a day, but if Mother Nature doesn't lend a hand they could be out here for weeks to come.

"It certainly would be a help if we had rain, that's what we are going to need-- rain or snow, we'll take both," Tilloston declared.

Donations are being accepted for the crews in field. You can drop off donations at the Foothills Higher Education Center at 2128 South Sterling Street in Morganton between noon and 7 daily.

Among the items needed are beef jerky, protein bars, breakfast bars, bottled water, gatorade, socks, hand wipes, hand lotion, foot powder, hand warmers, bandanas, toboggans/wool cams and gloves. 

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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