WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina transportation officials warned a massive, uncontained wildfire causing problems on Interstate 40 could continue for several days, snarling traffic amid the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, on Sunday dozens of areas including the Appalachian Trail were closed in the North Carolina mountains.
The Black Bear Fire in Haywood County started Thursday morning along I-40 at mile marker 3 near the tunnel to Tennessee when a tractor-trailer flipped on its side, sparking a blaze, the U.S. Forest Service said.
In just the first 36 hours, the wildfire grew to about 1,200 acres by Friday night. The blaze in the Appalachian Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest grew again on Saturday and now is near 1,800 acres — at 1,720. The wildfire is 0 percent contained.
Interstate 40 drivers contend with smoke, flames
I-40 drivers have seen flames line the steep hills as the wildfire burned over the last four days. Other drivers have dealt with thick smoke on the drive through the North Carolina side of the I-40 tunnel.
“Very eerie to see it that close and personal,” Robbie Baker wrote on Facebook along with posting several photos of the blaze appearing to surround I-40.
“My family home is not far from the fires and I’m praying (something I don’t do) that they are able to stop it before it grows larger,” Waynesville resident Shane Evans wrote in a social media post of videos of the flames along I-40.
There is already a burn ban in 30 North Carolina counties — including the mountains — which is also in a severe drought.
NC mountain areas closed amid blaze and ‘elevated fire danger’
The National Weather Service said Sunday there is an “elevated fire danger” Sunday afternoon.
“Ongoing drought conditions combined with low afternoon relative humidity values will lead to an elevated fire danger risk today,” the National Weather Service said about much of the North Carolina mountains.
For public and firefighter safety, the Appalachian Trail is closed from Interstate 40 to Browns Gap. Road closures are in effect for Cold Springs Road and Brown Gap Road, officials said.
The Black Bear Fire is the latest of several large wildfires in the North Carolina mountains in just the first three weeks of November.
As of Sunday, 828 fires have burned on state and private lands statewide since Nov. 1, the N.C. Forest Service said.
“Yesterday, firefighters responded to several small fires across the region, protecting more than 20 structures with an estimated total value over $100 million,” the officials with the N.C. Forest Service said.
The wildfires are flaring up just as the season starts Monday for deer hunting using rifles in western North Carolina.
Fire officials warned hunters about being around and in the fire areas.
“Even if the fires are not actively burning, there are still hot spots and potential for reburn that could be dangerous to anyone within the interior of a burned area,” Forest Service officials said. “Trees have been weakened by the fire and could fall, so be cautious around snags and damaged trees.”