ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Two western North Carolina counties have entered the highest level of drought and Gov. Pat McCrory has issued a state of emergency for a total of 25 counties.
Clay and Cherokee counties moved into “exceptional drought” conditions with a total of nine other counties in the second-highest level, extreme drought.
McCrory said in a statement that there are more than 20 active wildfires in the western portion on the state. They are a result of the drought conditions.
“As eastern North Carolina was underwater due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew, the western part of the state has been suffering from a severe drought and now hundreds of acres are burning. This declaration will help facilitate evacuations as needed and provide further state assets to help combat the wildfires and support North Carolinians displaced by the fires. This is extremely dangerous work and I especially want to thank the firefighters, first responders, sheriffs and other emergency personnel that have risked their own lives to protect our citizens and property,” McCrory said.
Graham, Henderson, Macon, Polk, Swain, Transylvania, Buncombe, Haywood, and Jackson counties are now all considered to be in extreme drought conditions.
“The southeastern U.S. has been under persistent high pressure for the past few months and this has led to above normal temperatures while suppressing rainfall,” said Rebecca Ward, climatologist for the drought council and the state climate office. “The dryness in the mountains has persisted since May and several counties are now seeing one of their top driest years based on more than 105 years of records.”
The dry conditions are fueling fires that are raging in Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
More than 100 fires in North Carolina have burned thousands of acres since the beginning of November, officials said.
The state of emergency is in effect for 25 counties including Alexander, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties.
There have been evacuations ordered in Clay, Graham, Macon, Rutherford and Swain counties.
A ban on all open burning in those 25 counties has been issued by the North Carolina Forest Service until further notice.
In support of the U.S. Forest Service, N.C. Emergency Management’s Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team has deployed a N.C. National Guard Blackhawk helicopter and local rescue technicians to perform any rescues necessary from wildfire fighting operations, the governor said.