Fire continues burning Pilot Mountain

Dry and windy conditions helped the Pilot Mountain fire to grow, having burned more than 500 acres by Tuesday morning.

Photo courtesy Missey Finley

As the Pilot Mountain fire reached into its fourth day on Tuesday, anxiety levels for residents around the mountain remained high. Winds have been keeping the smoke from settling but are still causing the dangerous conditions on the mountain that have fueled the ongoing blaze.

The NC Forest Service Red Incident Management Team were scheduled to h old a virtual community meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. to provide updates about the Grindstone Fire.

Officials anticipate the entirety of Pilot Mountain itself, over 900 acres, will have been affected by the fire. With the full acreage of Pilot Mountain State Park being more than 3,800 acres, containment has been the strategy on the ground.

On Monday, firefighters began a controlled burn, working to direct the fire down the mountain to the fire containment line. “The goal has been to just contain the fire to the state park grounds,” Pilot Mountain Mayor Even Cockerham said. “They’ve done really heroic work to make sure that there is a fire line around the base of the mountain to prevent it spreading into our community.”

Cockerham went on to describe the mixed bag of emotions the wind is causing saying, “It’s been a blessing and a curse that the wind has been like it has been, because its carried smoke away from the mountain. But, of course, it’s made the fire much more dangerous for the firefighters that are up there fighting it right now.”

Smoke was reported on the north side of Pilot Mountain Tuesday morning, with observers reporting the south side appeared smoke free. Forecasted winds from the southwest will continue blowing this smoke away from the area to the northeast.

The fire that has encompassed the mountain and so far burned more than 500 acres of Pilot Mountain State Park was likely the result of a man-made fire, the mayor said Tuesday. Whether the fire was the cause of human negligence or something more nefarious remains to be determined.

What is clear though is that with dry and windy conditions continuing, there remains a risk of additional fires. The North Carolina Forest Service has issued a ban on all open burning and has canceled all burning permits statewide until further notice.

“It is fall wildfire season in North Carolina, and we are seeing wildfire activity increase due to dry conditions,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “With these ongoing conditions, a statewide burn ban is necessary to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading quickly. Our top priority is always to protect lives, property and forestland across the state.”

Under North Carolina law, the ban prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was previously issued. Anyone violating the burn ban faces a $100 fine plus $183 court costs.

“Of course, don’t burn anything right now, but in the future if you’ve got a campfire – make sure it is out,” Cockerham added. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire.

Local fire departments and law enforcement officers are assisting the N.C. Forest Service in enforcing the burn ban.

The Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection is continuing to monitor the smoke situation as the fire continues. They issued a statement Monday that read, “Particle pollution levels will be elevated as the wildfire smoke rotates through the Triad. While unhealthy levels of particle pollution are not expected, those persons with asthma and/or other health issues may want to limit their outdoor exertion, during this period.”

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