Party Rock wildfire still only 19-percent contained, officials say

BAT CAVE, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — Some business owners and residents will be allowed to return Saturday in Chimney Rock as a nearby fire has damaged more than 5,700 acres.

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Firefighters worked Thursday into Friday against the Party Rock fire which is still only 19-percent contained.

A strong cold front is scheduled to hit North Carolina Saturday which is expected to bring winds that could gust up to 50 mph.

Across the state, fires have scorched up to 50,000 acres and forced evacuations.
T
he Party Rock Fire near Lake Lure in Rutherford County has forced the most evacuations — more than 1,000 people.

Some business owners and residents of Chimney Rock Village will be allowed to return Saturday with a pass, the North Carolina Forest Service said.

On Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory said the state is offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for setting the western North Carolina wildfires.

RELATED: Cold front approaching NC ‘will support rapid fire growth,’ officials say

“We are committed to doing all we can to support our firefighters, protect people and property, and find those who may be responsible for any wildfires in North Carolina,” said McCrory. “Firefighters are making progress but the job is not over. I especially want to thank the volunteers serving as firefighters and those helping to feed, house and support firefighters in communities throughout our state.”

While no arrests have been made in North Carolina related to the wildfires, arrests have been made in neighboring states.

Andrew Scott Lewis of Chattanooga, Tennessee is charged with three counts of setting fire to person property and one count of vandalism over $250,000, officials said.

The charges are in connection to blazes set this week in the Smith Mountain and Blue Sewanee Mountain areas outside Chattanooga that have burned 300 acres and threatened several homes.

Lewis was developed as a suspect based on a tip from a citizen.

In Kentucky, 21-year-old Johnny Mullins is facing a charge of second-degree arson for the blaze in Letcher County. Mullins would post selfie videos on Facebook from the scene of various fires, delivering what he called a “Weather Outlook” segment for his viewers.

In his last video, posted on Nov. 6, Mullins warned people in eastern Kentucky to “be extremely careful if you’re out there,” and got 2,900 views.

The chief told The Associated Press on Friday that Mullins told him he started the fire he was charged with earlier this week “because he enjoyed the attention he got from the Facebook stuff.”

A Georgia sheriff says tips from residents led them to four children ages 7 to 13 who authorities say touched off a wildfire near an airport by playing with a lighter in the woods and lighting dried-up leaves on fire.

The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office says the 120-acre blaze began Tuesday near Paulding County’s airport, about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Sheriff’s officials said in a statement Friday that the children tried to extinguish the blaze, but it quickly spread because of the extremely dry conditions.

The sheriff said the children will be enrolled in the Youth Firesetter Intervention Program, a court-sanctioned program sponsored by the Georgia Firefighter Burn Foundation.

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CLICK TO VIEW A PROGRESSION MAP OF THE PARTY ROCK FIRE

Hundreds of firefighters continue to fight the 15 fires in the North Carolina mountains.

There hasn’t been a fire in the Lake Lure area in a long time, so the forest floor is thick with flammable material, and falling autumn leaves are encouraging the flames to spread, said Victoria Tillotson, a spokeswoman with the North Carolina Forest Service.

A total of 850 people were fighting the Party Rock blaze, which grew to more than 5,700 acres and was still just 19 percent contained, she said.

New areas were evacuated in Henderson County on Wednesday because of the Party Rock Fire. By 7 p.m. Wednesday, flames were already in the area that was evacuated, according to CBS North Carolina’s Amy Cutler.

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The flames also have moved into Buncombe County and forced evacuations there.

A map released Wednesday night showed the wildfire’s progress into the evacuated areas.

Eight members of the Durham Fire Department  left Durham early Thursday to assist with the Party Rock Fire burning near Lake Lure. The two crews are expected to be gone for at least three days and will work 12-hour shifts, officials said.

Burning trees falling across creeks and roads are an ever-present threat.

“A tree drops across the creek and now you’ve got fire on the other side,” one firefighter explained.

The smoke is hiding the sun in town, but out at the fire’s edge, it appears blood red.

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Areas where the North Carolina wildfires are burning have received only 25 percent of normal rainfall over the last 60 days.

That means fires are able to spread quickly. One fire, the Muskrat Valley Fire, was spreading up to nearly a football field length in just an hour, fire officials explained.

Also Wednesday, Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, was put under a burn ban.

The burn ban, which includes recreational fires, comes nearly a week after a state of emergency was declared for 25 counties in western North Carolina because of the wildfires. State parks in the area had already banned fires for a number of days.

There was some good news on Wednesday. The Tellico Fire — at 13,679 acres, by far the largest in the state — is now 74 percent contained. About 460 firefighters are battling that blaze.

Here’s a list of some other fires and the number of acres burned at each:

  • Party Rock Fire — 5,714
  • Chestnut Knob Fire — 5,689
  • Tellico Fire — 13,679
  • Boteler Fire — 8,967
  • Maple Springs Fire — 7,705
  • Ferebee Fire — 3,175
  • Avey Branch Fire — 1,200
  • Knob Fire — 1,130

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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