N.C. wildfire brings smoke to Western Tidewater

Published 10:44 am Friday, May 13, 2011

FRANKLIN—A 22,000-acre North Carolina wildfire 135 miles from Franklin is believed to be the cause for the smell of smoke here, Franklin Fire Chief Vince Holt said Friday.

“I noticed when I came out of my house this morning, there was the smell of smoke,” Holt said. “As soon as I smelled it, I figured it was the wild land fire in Dare County.”

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Friday issued an advisory for air pollution in the Albemarle region as smoke from the wildfire was expected to shift northward. The alert was issued for Pasquotank, Perquimans, Camden, Currituck, Chowan, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. The alert includes the towns of Edenton, Hertford and Winfall and the city of Elizabeth City.

Lightning is believed to have started the fire in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Holt said. A 10-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 264 remained closed as nearly 200 firefighters attempt to extinguish the fire, which began on May 5 and is about 55 percent contained, according to news reports.

Holt said it’s not uncommon for a fire of that size to get mixed in with the weather system.

“It can go for several miles,” he said. “When it’s cloudy, it will hang to the ground low. That’s one of the reasons it’s (the smoke) coming up this way.”

Forecasters are calling for a 60 percent chance of rain on Saturday, May 14.

“I understand the fire was started by lightning,” Holt said. “Sometimes when Mother Nature starts a fire, Mother Nature has to take it out. That’s very common for a fire of this type. In most cases, Mother Nature has to help.”

A similar fire a few years ago in Hampton Roads’ Dismal Swamp brought smoke to Western Tidewater, he said. The fire burned for more than a month.