Fire on the mountain

Firefighters beat back Fleetwood wildfire

By Adam Orr -

FLEETWOOD-After more than two days of round-the-clock work, firefighters said Tuesday afternoon they have more than 90 percent of the Fleetwood fire contained.

Since it began Sunday, the fire has pumped out thick smoke that could be seen for miles, but North Carolina Forest Service Ranger Tim Lewis said crews should have the blaze completely extinguished by Friday.

“That’s the hope if everything goes according to plan,” Lewis said. “Right now we’re kind of mopping up as we go along, cutting down snags on the fire and making sure all the embers are out within 100 feet of the fire line. Things are looking good so far. We think we’ll have it totally contained by night shift Wednesday and totally out by Friday.”

The NCFS has dubbed the blaze the Two Mile Fire. That’s according to topographical maps passed out to firefighters since the blaze got underway Sunday morning, when a structure fire on Hidden Pasture Road – just off Paul Goodman Road in Fleetwood – got out of hand and became a forest fire.

Firefighters from multiple agencies rushed to the area when the call went out sometime before 10 a.m. Sunday morning, and worked to beat back the fire but high winds – with gusts above 30 miles per hour – fed the fire’s flames, according to Lewis.

At least 12 different departments pitched in to fight the fire, with crews from Watauga and Wilkes Counties coming to aid volunteers from departments all over Ashe County.

Fire trucks could be seen filling up their water tanks from Old Fields Creek Sunday before heading further up Paul Goodman Road to battle the fire. Smoke could be seen from as far as West Jefferson and Todd.

Lewis said firefighters quickly got to work containing the fire through burn-out operations, which work inside a control line to allow the fire to consume the fuel between the edge of the fire and the control line. It’s a way of managing a fire by systematically taking away the fuel the fire needs to continue growing.

But it was hard going for firefighters battling a fast moving blaze in steep terrain, Lewis said.

“Fire runs several times faster on hillsides than it does on level ground,” Lewis said. “You’ve got updrafts and downdrafts, plus, when you’re talking about working on the side of a mountain like we did here – you can’t simply run a dozer up and push a bunch of ground to contain it. It’s all guys working on their feet, and it’s tough.”

Lewis said he was proud of the work firefighters did to contain the blaze, especially after nightfall on Sunday when temperatures plunged below freezing. At one point, the pumper trucks nearly froze, Lewis said.

“I can’t say enough about these fire department guys,” Lewis said. “Even when things were freezing Sunday they stuck through it, through the whole night and only left when they had to go to work Monday morning. The fire departments, the rescue squad – we couldn’t have done this without all the support from these folks.”

Lewis extended those kudos to the wider Ashe County community, saying the support given to the firefighters by local men and women made a hard job a little easier.

“I told my county manager (Tuesday) morning that the amount of community support has been overwhelming,” Lewis said. “People have donated so much to the effort – toboggans, socks, Walmart contributed a bunch of stuff, food, snacks – the command post at the Fleetwood Fire Department looks like the inside of a Sam’s Club. And that helps us, so I’d like to say thank you, personally, to everybody who pitched in.”

The fire was ultimately contained in a section of ground between Mile High Lake Road, Sierra Road and US-221. Lewis said at least 435 acres have gone up in the blaze but, besides the initial structure that kick started the fire, only an additional small shed has been lost.

Though Lewis called this, “Ashe County’s largest fire in years,” the blaze probably could have been worse. Ongoing drought conditions throughout the southeast means much of the area is primed for wildfires.

“It’s sad to say but we knew it was only a matter of time,” Lewis said. “Everything is so dry and until we get rain – it’s only going to get worse.”

State officials instituted a burning ban in Ashe and 21 other Counties on Nov. 21. When the flames finally die in Fleetwood, Lewis and other rangers could be asked to head to Watauga County to take on a forest fire that’s cropped up near Blowing Rock.

“With how dry everything is right now, you just can’t become complacent or think you’ve got everything in hand,” Lewis said. “So you catch naps when you can, take a break when you can, because you don’t know how long you’re ultimately going to be at it.”

Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.
Firefighters beat back Fleetwood wildfire

By Adam Orr

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