The U.S. Forest Service says all but one of the wildfires burning in western North Carolina was caused by man-made forces. That includes the 'suspicion of arson', but that does not mean the fires were caused on purpose. Only further investigation will be able to confirm that.
The more than 20 wildfires burning throughout western North Carolina have been aided by severe drought conditions and continued windy, dry weather. Rain is forecast to fall finally in the region, but not until next Wednesday morning.
Franklin mayor Bob Scott is calling for voluntary water conservation as crews continue to battle the blazes. He says if conditions don't improve mandatory restrictions could start sometime next week. Scott urges residents to postpone activities such as watering their lawns or washing their cars for the time being.
Because of the fires, air quality is now "unhealthy" for all groups in Cherokee, Clay, Macon, and Graham Counties. In Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson and much of the rest of western North Carolina, air quality is "unhealthy for sensitive groups." Authorities urge residents to limit prolonged outdoor exertion, particularly those with respiratory conditions like asthma.
North Carolina governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency yesterday. In a statement, the governor said "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.” 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.
Evacuation orders have also been issued for areas around Lake Lure in Rutherford County, as well as in Macon County. An outdoor burn ban remains in effect for the entire region. Several North Carolina state parks are now closed to allow those that work there to fight the fires. They include Mount Mitchell, South Mountain, Chimney Rock, Gorges, New River, Elk Knob, Lake James, and the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area.