Crippling drought conditions are sparking blaze after blaze across six states in the South.
More than 30 large wildfires have left a trail of destruction through 80,000 acres in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, according to the US Forest Service.
“Dry weather, high winds and the continuing drought is driving the large growth of fires,” said Dave Martin, Deputy Director of Operations for Fire and Aviation Management for the US Forest Service’s Southern Region. He said since the fires are spread out over several states, the agencies resources are being depleted.
More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation are trying to suppress these fires, he said.
“All of the Southeast is very dry … fire doesn’t know any boundaries,” said Brian Haines, spokesman for the North Carolina Forest Service. “Drought conditions are contributing to drier and larger forest fuels being available. These range from the undergrowth to sticks, leaves and logs. Even the smallest of sparks can ignite these very dry fuels.”
A number of the fires are being investigated as suspected arson, but natural causes and conditions are also responsible for the fires, Haines said.
“We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference Monday. So far his state has spent $10 million to contain the wildfires, he said.
“The major goal of firefighters is to try to contain this and have it burn inward as opposed to expanding, but the fact of the matter is the fires are expanding under these incredibly difficult conditions,” McCrory said. The governor declared a state of emergency in 25 western counties on Thursday after the fires resulted in evacuations in several counties.
Officials in Tennessee and Kentucky have also declared a state of emergency.
The fires also are impairing air quality. Satellite images show a blanket of smoke over the skies in several Southern states.
Situation in North Carolina
Eight large fires are still blazing in the mountains of western North Carolina while 15 smaller ones burn elsewhere in the state, said Haines of the North Carolina Forest Service.
The Chestnut Knob Fire in South Mountain State Park has consumed about 3,200 acres and forced the closing of the park, Haines said. The Party Rock fire in Chimney Rock State Park has devoured 3,457 acres and closed that park, too. Other parks are closed so that the people who work there can help fight the fires, he said.
Situation in Georgia
Pockets of wildfires also continue to burn in some parts of Northern Georgia.
The Rough Ridge Fire has engulfed more than 19,411 acres and was 20% contained as of Monday morning, according to the US Forest Service. Nearly 300 firefighters are working to extinguish it.
The Rough Ridge Fire was sparked by lightning 28 days ago, said Mary Stuever, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.
The Rock Mountain Fire has grown to more than 4,100 acres and is 10% contained, according to the US Forest Service.
A total fire ban is now in effect in the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests.
Steve Visser and CNN meteorologist Judson Jones contributed to this report
SOURCE: Chandrika Narayan