After six days of fighting a wildfire around the clock, crews from the North Carolina Forest Service and other agencies providing mutual aid finally have left Fork Mountain.
The High Eagle Fire off U.S. 321 north, a short distance from Kirby Mountain Road ,was brought into full containment, and crews were able to return to normal duties after it burned 175 acres. Caldwell County Ranger Rusty Dellinger said firefighters left the fire scene around 6 p.m. Saturday, and checks Sunday and Monday revealed that there were no dangers from the largest wildfire in the county this year.
“It was fully contained at that time, and we started pulling off the last crews,” Dellinger said. “There’s no apparent danger at this time. I’m ready to see some new terrain.”
Nearly 70 firefighting personnel from various agencies were involved in containing the blaze, reported around 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 26 by a Caldwell County Sheriff’s deputy patrolling in the area. Crews put in hand lines to go with a dozer line that was placed around the entire fire perimeter to assist with containment efforts. Ground crews also received aerial assistance with 26 drops of water from an NCFS helicopter totaling more than 5,700 gallons over a two-day period.
“The resources we ordered were strategically placed around the perimeter of the fire,” Dellinger said. “We were fortunate to be able to get a bulldozer line all the way around the fire. We feel fortunate we were able to hold it at 175 acres.”
The wildfire was the 95th in the county this year and burned more acreage than the other fires combined.
Dellinger said the initial investigation of the fire showed that it was caused by human hands, but the exact cause has not been determined yet.
“We’re working on some leads, but there’s nothing else we can release at this time,” he said.
Dellinger, who served as the incident commander and spent the week on the fire, said the terrain made fighting the blaze extremely difficult because of the numerous rock cliffs, dense vegetation and thick underbush as well as the fuels available for the fire to consume.
“Because of the terrain and accessibility, there was a risk of that fire escaping and spreading into hundreds of acres of forest land, but that didn’t happen,” Dellinger said.
Favorable weather assisted in keeping the fire in check. There were no significant winds, and humidity levels increased as the week went along.
“The resources we had in place played a big role, but if the weather had been a little more critical with high winds and low humidity, that could have made this fire much more significant,” NCFS Public Information Officer Roger Miller said.
“That was a big factor in containing the fire,” he said. “We did not have any winds to drive it or it could have been much worse. Occasionally throughout the incident there were times when winds increased, but we didn’t have any significant wind events. It remained a low-intensity backing fire.”
Firefighters had to conduct a number of burnout operations over a wide area within the containment lines to eliminate excess fuels, made much drier than normal because of a lack of significant precipitation in the last six weeks or so.
“There were a lot of fuels inside the fire line that had to be burned,” Dellinger explained. “We’re not destroying the forest when we do a burnout. Fire danger to timber is minimal. It’s a good hazard reduction burn that eliminates destructive wildfire fuels.”
Dellinger said the terrain and dry conditions were primary factors in the fire’s spread and noted the need for some precipitation to help reduce any rising fire dangers.
“Be it rain or snow, we need some precipitation to dampen fuels in the forests,” Dellinger said. “If we can get that, it will help greatly. We’re lucky we were able to contain this one when we did. There was potential for far more damage.”