Fire on the mountain
Crews with the North Carolina Forest Service spent Monday battling a wildfire in northern Caldwell County that may burn 100 acres or more by the time it is fully contained.
The fire on Fork Mountain, just off U.S. 321 north near the rock quarry south of Kirby Mountain Road, was reported late Monday morning and required the services of ground crews as well as aerial support and heavy equipment.
Initial indications showed the fire to be about eight acres in size, but by early evening it had grown to 15 acres and was just 20 percent contained, burning in an area of heavy timber.
NCFS Forester/Operations Officer Richard Cockerham said the evening update from Caldwell County Ranger Rusty Dellinger indicated that the fire had crossed the northern slope of Fork Mountain and was burning on the southern face as well. It was expected that the fire may grow to more than 100 acres overnight before full containment.
Heavy plumes of smoke could be seen from a distance along U.S. 321 nearing the fire site, which was in an area of steep terrain with rock cliffs that made access by foot to put in hand lines extremely difficult.
As a result, aerial support and additional manpower were needed to battle the fire. A scout plan helped ground crews plot the fire and its movement to develop a plan of action. A helicopter was used to provide numerous water drops on the fire to aid suppression efforts from above, hitting those areas not reached by crews. The helicopter would make a drop then leave to reload the bucket with water throughout the afternoon. It also had to refuel at one point during the afternoon.
A dozer was used to put in containment lines in areas that were accessible, and three bridge crews came from Morganton to assist NCFS crews, firefighters from Patterson Fire Department and the Caldwell County Strike Force.
Cockerham said low humidity levels helped drive the fire along with the heavy fuel load in the wooded mountainous area. He said winds did not appear to reach high speeds, but they shifted from time to time and varied in strength as the day moved along.
With the fire still burning, officials made the decision to leave a crew at the scene overnight to make sure it did not jump containment lines in place or pick up intensity. Crews are expected to continue their efforts to suppress the fire today.