Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wildfire - USA (North Carolina) JUN

A wildfire that has burned nearly 31,000 acres in eastern North Carolina may smolder for months as it burns decayed vegetation that makes up the soil in the area, a state official said Saturday.

The fire, about 40 percent contained, continues to burn in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, about 70 miles south of Norfolk, Va. The spread of the fire across more than 48 square miles slowed over the past few days. Winds remain light, but it continues to threaten about 80 homes and businesses.

No injuries or structure damage have been reported.

The blaze burned an additional 1,000 acres - 1.5 square miles - on Saturday. Firefighters must build 25 miles of containment lines before it can be fully controlled, officials said.

North Carolina Forest Service spokesman Bill Swartley warned that temperatures near 100 degrees this weekend would keep conditions ripe for the blaze.

Gov. Mike Easley has declared a state of emergency in three counties. He warned that driving could be difficult with smoke-filled roads. Officials said none were expected to be closed.

For the past few days, smoke from the fire has blown north into heavily populated areas along Virginia's coast. But the winds shifted, and forecasters expected it to blow east toward the Outer Banks.

Fire officials told residents that smoke could linger for months because of fire smoldering in the decayed vegetation that makes up the peat-filled soil. Peat is flammable.

"You won't see open flame. The ground is just really hot - you can't walk on it," Swartley said.

The only way to stop the fire in the soil is to flood it. Firefighters are pumping water from nearby Phelps Lake to battle the ground fire. However, the only thing that will put all of it out for good would be several inches of rain at one time, like from a tropical storm, Swartley said.

The fire was sparked by lightning a week ago.

In California, a wildfire that briefly threatened 50 homes in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles was contained early Saturday. The blaze in the Grapevine area along Interstate 5 in the Tehachapi Mountains had charred about 500 acres - less than a square mile - of grass and brush by the time it was declared surrounded.

Residents of about 50 homes in Digier Canyon were advised to leave but the threat ended and the fire basically had stopped growing by Friday evening.

Damp weather during the night helped keep the fire down.

The cause of that fire had not been determined.

Another wildfire briefly threatened scattered canyon homes Saturday in eastern San Diego County, but its spread was stopped by late afternoon. - Source

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