NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — A fire in the Croatan National Forest has more than doubled in size in a day to about 8,000 acres, prompting an advisory Monday warning five eastern counties in North Carolina of possibly unhealthy air.
A prescribed burn in the center of the 160,000-acre forest left about 2,800 acres burning Sunday but has since expanded. The fire is located between Havelock and New Bern in Craven County.
Flames have spread from Sheep Ridge Wilderness, a swampy area of low vegetation, to into the rest of the forest, said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Pancho Smith.
“It’s gone onto some other property, but still within our containment boundaries,” Smith said. “We’re working on our containment strategy.”
Firefighters are attacking the flames though a method called burnout, or backfire. Crews have ignited the brush on Catfish Lake Road to create a line of fire they can control, Smith said. No structures or private property are threatened, officials said.
“We can hold the fire and the lines we put in place,” Smith said. “We have tractor plows there so we can actually control it. And we burn out from there so that when the main fire gets there, it won’t have any place to go.”
Mechanized equipment isn’t allowed in the wilderness area so firefighters are battling the blaze indirectly, he said. About 75 firefighters are involved.
Firefighters are concerned not only about the flames, but also the smoke, Smith said.
The state Division of Quality issued a Code Orange alert for residents of Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow and Pamlico counties, meaning the air could be unhealthy for sensitive groups. Air quality monitors as far west as Raleigh, about 125 miles away, have shown increased particle pollution due to smoke.