Sunday, November 13, 2016

Firefighters from across US battle Appalachian wildfires

[My Northwest] Many of the nation’s largest active wildfires Thursday were burning in the southern Appalachian mountains, where a relentless drought has turned pine trees into torches and forced evacuations in dozens of communities.
More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to try to suppress these fires, said Shardul Raval, director of fire and aviation management for the southern region of the U.S. Forest Service.
The effort includes about 40 aircraft, including three large air tankers flying out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tens of thousands of acres of forest have burned, and about a dozen of the largest fires were uncontained, the forest service said.
High winds and temperatures and weeks without rain have combined to spark blaze after blaze in the unusually dry landscape. Numerous teams reported wind-driven fires racing up slopes and down ravines as they struggled to protect hundreds of threatened structures.
“It just smells like a campfire” along the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia, said Carlie Gentry, who works at the Mountain Crossings store at Walasi-yi, a popular stop for hikers.
“For weeks up here we’ve been having smoke, but it is getting more intense for sure,” Gentry said. Typically, the view stretches for miles, she said. Now, “you can hardly see to the next ridge.”
Thursday’s national drought report shows 41.6 million people in parts of 15 Southern states living in drought conditions. The worst is in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, but extreme drought also is spreading into the western Carolinas. Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina all have fierce fires.
“Right now we’re kind of holding our own,” said Jennifer Turner, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky’s state Division of Forestry. “We’ve been able to get control over some of the smaller fires.”
But with humidity so low in the normally lush Appalachians and Great Smoky Mountains, authorities are bracing for more. North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for a fourth of his state’s 100 counties, to help with evacuations and provide more firefighting assets. Read More