GRAHAM COUNTY, NC - Firefighters on the Maple Springs and Old Roughy fires took advantage of improved weather conditions using helicopters to drop buckets of water suppressing hot spots and reinforcing firelines. The fires continue to slowly burn through leaf litter and plant growth on the forest floor. Forested areas receiving more sunlight and taller grasses are burning with greater intensity and longer flame lengths creating spot fires a short distance ahead of the fire.
Firefighters are continuing to mop up and patrol the fires edges in and around structures. Heavy smoke continues to impact Highway 129 and local communities. Excellent work by firefighters is greatly reducing the potential for damage to structures on the east side of the Old Roughy fire.
Because of the hard work by firefighters, local emergency managers are working with fire officials to identify when evacuees can safely return home. Evacuations will continue until threats to public safety have been reduced. Residents are reminded that the fire is still actively burning in the areas evacuated and many hazards exist.
Tomorrow lighter winds, higher humidity and cooler temperatures should aid firefighters in their suppression efforts. However, these fires are topography driven, meaning the terrain assists in fire growth. Fire behavior will be similar to today on account of the dry fuels. An area of high pressure is predicted to move over the fires this weekend and no significant precipitation is expected.
The Maple Springs fire is burning in close proximity to the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness. The Wilderness is one of the “few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood in the Appalachians.” Fire managers have worked closely with the US Forest Service creating a plan to protect this national treasure. Firefighters using leaf blowers and rakes will clear leaf litter and debris in and around identified groves of trees. Removing the litter can lower surface fire intensity in and next to these trees.
Tactics used by firefighters when appropriate are burn out operations. A burn out operation sets fire along control lines to consume fuel between the edge of the fire and the control line. This tactic is used to remove unburned fuels inside control lines and also to move fire carefully though and around values at risk. Burn out operations have been successfully completed on the fires to secure control lines and protect values at risk.
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