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More than 1,000 acres burned at Pilot Mountain; NC burn ban in effect

The forest fire at Pilot Mountain State Park emits thick smoke as captured by WFDD's Paul Garber.
Courtesy Paul Garber
The forest fire at Pilot Mountain State Park emits thick smoke as captured by WFDD's Paul Garber.

Updated at 4:50 p.m.

A wildfire at North Carolina's Pilot Mountain State Park had grown to more than 1,000 acres by Tuesday afternoon, twice its size a day earlier, officials said.

The North Carolina Forest Service has issued a statewide burn ban and has canceled all burning permits, citing dry, hazardous conditions in the state.

Officials said the Pilot Mountain blaze, which has burned more than 1,050 acres, is about 20% contained and is burning only inside the park, news outlets reported. No buildings have been damaged. The park northwest of Winston-Salem is known for its iconic knob that rises about 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain.

Officials announced the burn ban on Monday.

“It is fall wildfire season in North Carolina, and we are seeing wildfire activity increase due to dry conditions,” state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in a statement. “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.”

The issuance of any new burning permits has also been suspended.

Anyone violating the burn ban faces a $100 fine plus $183 in court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire.

Under the burn ban, the use of outdoor grills and barbecues are still allowed, as long as no other local ordinance prohibits them. Burning trash, lumber, tires, newspapers, plastics or other non-vegetative material is illegal in North Carolina.

Open burning – which includes the burning of leaves, branches or any other plant material – is banned. Campfires are considered to be open burning, and are not exempt from the burn ban.

North Carolina Forestry Service officials believe the fire, which started near the Grindstone Trail on Saturday, was human-caused, according to Jimmy Holt, forest service ranger for Guilford County. By Monday, it had burned hundreds of acres and more than 40 firefighters were working to contain it.

Law enforcement officers will investigate to determine what sparked the blaze, he said.

Katie Hall is a spokeswoman for the state Division of Parks and Recreation. She says the whole park could be closed for a week, and key sections on the mountain itself even longer.

Once it’s open again, the damage will be obvious, but not permanent.

“In fact, in the medium to long term this will be incredibly healthy for the ecosystem at the park and is something that happens naturally and actually allows more native species to grow in the park,” Hall said. “And a lot of invasive species or overgrowth due to species that are not native to the park to be cleared out and make room for more native species to the area.”

Dozens of firefighters are expected to continue working on it for days. According to N.C. Fire Service, 15 N.C. State Parks personnel and 27 N.C. Forest Service personnel are currently working to control the blaze.

Drivers in the Pilot Mountain State Park area are advised to slow down and use headlights when they encounter smoky conditions.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Mitchell Northam
Jay Price is the military and veterans affairs reporter for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC.
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