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Pilot Mountain wildfire: 1,000 acres burned as firefighters work to keep it from spreading

North Carolina Forestry Service officials said they are confident the wildfire is "human-caused."

SURRY COUNTY, N.C. — Wednesday makes day five of battle with a monster wildfire on Pilot Mountain, and the dry weather isn't making the fight any easier for firefighters. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, a little more than 1,000 acres were burning - the same as the previous day. Before then, the wildfire had been doubling in size each day. 

The wildfire is just 20% contained, but fire officials say they're making progress as they're now able to access some parts of the mountain to tackle hot spots. 

Smoke has also drastically reduced, and the mountaintop's iconic knob is once again visible. 

A burn ban has been issued for all counties in the state and it will stay in effect until further notice.

Here's some of the latest information from North Carolina Service Ranger Jimmy Holt on the Pilot Mountain wildfire. 

  • Wednesday, the wildfire remained at just over 1,000 acres. Dry weather conditions continue to be an issue for firefighters. 
  • Holt said most of the fire has been brought down the mountain, and firefighters are managing to keep a good handle on controlling it. He said the fight is far from over, and more work still needs to be done. Crews are working to suppress the fire from the bottom of the mountain.
  • NC Forestry officials believe the fire was "human-caused." 

"We know it wasn't lightning, it was a human factor in some capacity, that could be machine use, an unextinguished campfire, that could be children, debris burning, a faulty chain saw, a faulty catalytic converter, there's a big window there," Holt said.

The law enforcement division within the NC Forest Service is working on the investigation at this time.

How large is the fire?

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire remained at just over 1,000 acres - the same as the previous day. Before then, the fire was doubling in size each day. 

Dozens of fire-fighting officials have been called in to help, including North Carolina Forest Service personnel and North Carolina Parks crews. Planes are also being used to dump water onto the fire.

This map gives you an idea of the approximate area that has burned on PIlot Mountain so far as of Monday night. Most of the popular state park area around the knob & overlook areas has had at least some fire activity, but the fire has so far been contained on the mountain.  

When did it start?

Chris Wall, a firefighter with the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department, said the department got a call about the fire around 5:15 p.m. Saturday. He said two departments were sent out to the area of Three Bear Gully, where they made access to the fire on foot. The fire grew to about 60 acres that evening. In a matter of three days, the fire has grown four times that size. 

What's the name of the fire?

The fire has been named the Grindstone Fire because it started along the Grindstone Trail on Pilot Mountain.

What caused the fire?

North Carolina Forest Service Ranger Jimmy Holt said Monday, "we can say with confidence that [the fire] was human-caused in some form." He said they know the fire wasn't started by a lightning strike, leading them to believe it was man-made. 

Once the wildfire is under control, Holt said law enforcement will be able to further investigate the cause. He said the fire was first discovered on Grindstone Trail. 

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but officials say that many of the fires we're seeing this time of year are being caused by drought and the leaves being on the ground, according to NC Forestry officials. Officials said the Sauratown Mountain fire was caused by a campfire.

When could the fire be out?

Holt said the firefight could last until the end of the week. 

The dry and windy weather conditions aren’t helping firefighters either, and there's virtually no chance for rain in our area until Sunday. 

North Carolina officials said they will continue to make this fire a priority until it rains, even once the fire is under control.

Is there a threat to homes?

Fire officials said no one has been hurt and no buildings have been damaged. No homes have had to be evacuated either. The fire is happening in the state park, and the closest homes are outside of that area, in the valley below. 

Officials believe the wildlife is largely okay and say that fire can create a better habitat for new growth.

How long could the state park be closed? 

Pilot Mountain State Park will be closed through the end of the week and into next week, officials said Monday. Park officials are encouraging people to avoid the area. 

There is no word on when the park will reopen. State officials said they would first need to check infrastructure and clear any damaged trees.

How can people help?

Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan Cockerham said firefighters could use the community’s help with donations of bottled water, snacks, Gatorade, and other items to stay hydrated. People can drop off the items at the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department on Key Street.

Cockerham also asked that no one burn anything for the time being in Surry and surrounding counties. A burn ban law has been issued for North Carolina. 

Fire officials are asking that no one fly drones in the area of the wildfire because it could disrupt their fire-fighting efforts.

Reports of smoke, haze in other counties 

Forsyth County Emergency Services said they’re receiving numerous calls about strong smoke and haze in the area. They said it’s from the Pilot Mountain wildfire. Guilford County has also reported smoke sightings. Emergency operators said unless it's an emergency, don't call. 

What is the burn ban law? 

The burn ban law prohibits all open burning in the affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was previously issued. The issuance of any new permits has also been suspended until the ban is lifted.

Those who violate the burn ban will face a $100 fine plus $183 court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire, according to the North Carolina Forest Service. State officials said fire departments and law enforcement officers will enforce the burn ban.

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