Pilot Mountain wildfire spreads as dry conditions continue

Smoke from the Pilot Mountain State Park wildfire is reflected in a private pond east of the park at sunset, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in North Carolina. The fire, which was reported to have started Saturday, has burned more than 500 acres as of Monday night and is expected to burn more as foresters set back fires to protect houses below the mountain. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

RALEIGH — One of the iconic landmarks of the foothills has been burning since Saturday.

Fire crews are battling a blaze at Pilot Mountain State Park that has burned hundreds of acres since the weekend.

WXII-TV in Winston-Salem reported that officials with the Pilot Knob Fire Department said a call about the fire first came at around 5:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Meanwhile the N.C. Forest Service announced Monday a ban on all open burning and has canceled all burning permits statewide until further notice.

“It is fall wildfire season in North Carolina, and we are seeing wildfire activity increase due to dry conditions,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “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 fire that covered about 300 acres Monday grew by about 75 acres overnight, North Carolina Forestry Service spokeswoman Christie Adams said on Sunday.

“The fire is not contained, but it’s well within the containment lines,” Adams said. No structures are threatened, she added.

Subsequent reports say at least 500 acres have burned, and the Forest Service confirmed that fire was “human caused” at the park.

The North Carolina State Parks and Recreation Department has said the park likely will be closed all week. The park northwest of Winston-Salem is known for its iconic knob that rises about 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan Cockerham said the situation is being closely monitored and the dry conditions have led to a ban on outdoor burning in Surry County and the surrounding counties.

State officials are asking people to stay away from the area and to refrain from using drones because they may interfere with firefighting aircraft.

Republican State Rep. Kyle Hall, whose legislative district covers eastern Surry County, told NSJ that officials predict the fire could continue for one and a half weeks.

“Pilot Mountain is not only one of the state’s most beloved natural landmarks, but it is a beloved icon of the community in the North Carolina foothills. As I have watched the wildfire spread across Pilot Mountain, I am reminded that such a national and local treasure is beloved by so many, even outside of the district I represent,” said Hall.

The National Weather Service said in its forecast that very dry conditions will continue across much of the state, combined with gusty southwest winds and relative humidity values falling to as low as 30% during this same time.

“These factors combined with the very dry fuels from lack of any recent significant rainfall will result in a continued enhanced fire danger and increased spread of wildfires,” the NWS said in the forecast.

Hall, who has shared a donation link, said local fire stations are asking that those who wish to donate make a financial donation instead of sending bottled water.

“These events have been sobering, but I am also inspired by the selflessness of those in our community who have jumped in to help each other. Many are taking it upon themselves to help the brave first responders fighting the fires and the families impacted by donating supplies and funds, doing whatever they can for their neighbors. I am proud to represent the community in Pilot Mountain and the rest of my district and am honored to serve them during these trying times,” he added.

Flames reportedly reached as tall as three feet over the weekend, as high winds put firefighters in the position to take defensive operations.