Bertie blazes consume 350 acres

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 11, 2008

Large forest fires have devastated at least two areas of Bertie County in the last few days.

Forestry Service officials are saying that conditions this hazardous haven’t existed in this area for decades.

Sunday evening, a fire began three or four miles east of Lewiston, along the Charles Taylor Road, and quickly grew to engulf approximately 150 acres of land.

&uot;That fire grew until 3 a.m. Monday morning when they (forest rangers) got it sown on up and they were still out cleaning out the lines later Monday morning,&uot; stated Cabe Speary, the Assistant District Forester for the nine-county district based in Elizabeth City.

Fire lines are constructed to contain a fire by digging ditches around the blaze.

That way, rangers and firefighters can work to put out the existing flames without worrying of it spreading further.

Speary continued, &uot;We had one tractor plow unit on it with two people; they wanted another tractor but we just didn’t have the equipment with everything else going on.&uot;

That fire was successfully contained early Monday morning, but spots still blaze on within the lines.

Another fire started Monday in between Buena Vista and Hexlena off the Earley’s Station Road.

That fire, estimated at 200 acres, grew so rapidly that it threatened one house.

It took two tractor plows, a scout plane, a &uot;Dram&uot; aircraft and one CL-215 &uot;water scooper&uot; plane to contain the blaze.

&uot;If it hadn’t been for those planes, there was a house that would’ve been lost,&uot; Speary said.

As of late Monday afternoon, the blaze was contained, but tractors were still working on &uot;cleaning up&uot; the fire lines.

The cause for both blazes is still under investigation, but officials say they could have been caused by as little as a tiny spark.

&uot;With conditions like they have been in the last few days, with very low humidity and strong winds, these fires were accelerated by those factors,&uot; Speary stated.

He continued, &uot;I’ve been in this part of North Carolina since 1993 and I don’t ever remember anything being anywhere near like this.&uot;

&uot;I know a man who has worked in forestry for 30 years and he said it’s as bad as he’s ever seen. Then another person said this is the worst since the last bad fire in Bertie County in 1961,&uot; Speary added.

Locals often refer to that 1961 fire as &uot;Black Friday.&uot; Reportedly, it burned 10,000 acres in a single day before finally stopping at Green’s Cross.

According to Speary, the number and acreage of fires in the last few days just in this district – 25 fires and 2,200 acres in nine counties – is worse than the rest of the state put together.

Bertie County Emergency Management Coordinator Rickey Freeman warns people to be very careful about burning or using incendiary devices.

&uot;It’s extremely dry and the humidity is low and it doesn’t take much for a small flame to turn into a major fire,&uot; he stated.

Freeman continued, &uot;Even a cigarette thrown out of a car window can start one of these fires with conditions like they are now. So can a flare or firecracker, anything with a spark.&uot;

He also pointed out that no matter how careful people are, the strong wind can make a tree blow over on power lines and that may cause a spark that ignites and turns into raging fire.

Speary urged people to be careful when driving through a smoky area and for those with breathing problems to stay indoors.

&uot;People need to drive very slowly when going through smoke and if they have lung problems they need to stay inside altogether until we get some rain,&uot; he warned.

According to Speary, the predicted humidity for the county is about six percent – something you would normally find in dry areas like the Death Valley desert in California.