By David Rogers. November 24, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Natural disasters often bring out the best in people, and that is being borne out again in the case of the Horton Fire as a nearly overwhelming amount of food and beverages — particularly Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings — were delivered to the fire response staging area on Thursday.
COVER IMAGE: Shot from the entrance to Blue Ridge Mountain Club on State View Rd., the large amounts of billowing smoke being spewed into the air are now much more manageable. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blue Ridge Mountain Club packaged more than 80 dinners for firefighters working on the line and through the night. Included with the dinners were handwritten “thank you” notes from Cove Creek School second graders.
No homes have been lost in this fire.
As Blowing Rock News was getting briefed at the staging center, another generous donation of food and beverages, with several large covered trays of turkey and dressing — and more — was just arriving from Poovey Chapel Baptist Church in Hudson, NC.
A large contingent of inter-agency reinforcements arrived from northern Idaho in mid-afternoon, bringing much needed relief to local crews. They included men and women from the U.S. Forest Service stationed in Idaho, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as well as representatives from state and municipal agencies, including law enforcement personnel.
At a 2:00 pm briefing, Public Information Officer (PIO) Nathan Hunerwadel told reporters that approximately 50 firefighters remained engaged in fighting the blaze with an emphasis on structure protection, particularly along Dugger Firetower Rd.
“No homes have been lost in this fire,” Hunerwadel noted. “The containment around the fire remains at 65% and the fire has grown slightly to about 1200 acres, but that was to be expected.”
The PIO explained that the fire fighting commanders expect that the fire should eventually consume 1350-1500 acres. “That is to be expected and is all within the containment perimeters that have been set up,” Hunerwadel said.
“As of this morning we had about 125 personnel on the fire,” the PIO recalled for reporters. “What is remarkable about this incident so far is that right around Thanksgiving when a lot of people are celebrating (the holiday), there are 125 out there. Also, as of last night, 52 different agencies have been involved in fighting this fire, from local law enforcement, fire fighters, volunteer fire departments (and many people) from out of state.”
The hard part is hanging on to what you have.
Hunerwadel expressed the firefighters’ extreme appreciation to the Watauga and surrounding communities for the support that has been offered in providing food, water. The Blue Ridge Mountain Club dinners, for example, will be delivered to the personnel actually out on the fire line.
Laurel Fork Baptist Church has served as the command center for the fire, while Alliance Bible Fellowship is providing shelter for evacuees and the Watauga Humane Society is keeping any pets that might need temporary care and protection.
Hunerwadel said that while all of the donated food and beverages have been greatly appreciated, they do not currently need additional donations. He asked that those wanting to further support the effort to please donate cash to the American Red Cross.
He added that Sampson Rd. is currently closed to the public except for people who live in the area, who are required to show identification.
Current incident commander Brent Triplett told reporters, “We had some good success yesterday and last night…I want to thank all of the firefighters who have come together on this team, as well as everyone who has supported our incident management.”
After listing all of the various emergency service agencies involved, Triplett said, “It really makes me proud to be a part of a team that would come out and work this hard, particularly over the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Triplett turned to Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs to provide updated details of the operation.
“Currently,” Isaacs said, “the burnouts have been very successful…The operation has held the (perimeter) line and everything looks good right now. The crews are in there now taking care of some snags that are near the line and doing some mop-up, trying to make that area secure.
“…The hard part,” Isaacs admitted, “is hanging on to what you have. Once you get the fire secured and you get it where you want it, there’s a lot of work to keep it there. You have to be diligent. It may be days before we can say that the fire is going to be (fully contained). Our biggest challenge right now is taking care of the hot spots that are out there and making sure that nothing is going to cross the (containment or perimeter) line.”
There are so many fires in Western North Carolina. Our resources are stretched very thin.
Isaacs pointed out that the overnight rain, as little as it was, was helpful, but that it would have been better a couple of hours later in terms of timing.
He continued, saying that most of the residents on Watson Rd. should be able to return to their homes very soon. He added that most of the residents on Dugger Firetower Rd. chose not to evacuate. “They are in their homes with the shutters down.”
Isaacs summed things up by saying, “Everyone down on the lines are pretty upbeat. There have been a lot of long hours and a lot of hard hours. Everyone has done a really excellent job.
In speaking with Blowing Rock Emergency Services Director Kent Graham, Blowing Rock News learned that the four primary divisions of personnel are being consolidated into two as the team “reduces its overhead.”
After suggesting that while the fire is pretty much under control, Graham described a couple of “dicey spots.” He also explained that the operational management of the Horton Fire is being transferred to the arriving Idaho team.
Hunerwadel closed the press briefing by saying, “Bringing in the Idaho management team is a really good thing. In addition to providing relief, it brings in a more experienced inter-agency team to give the local resource and leadership a rest and (expertise) in helping to manage this fire.”
Hunerwadel introduced Shoshawna Cooper, of the Idaho inter-agency team. Cooper will serve as the PIO.
After explaining the composition of the Idaho team and the agencies represented, Cooper said, “I have heard some really great things about the firefighters who have been working here. It is time to give them a break. We’re happy to bring that.”
Cooper explained that the inter-agency team primarily provides oversight of the incident and its management. Triplett added, “There are so many fires in Western North Carolina. Our resources are stretched very thin. For every one that is committed here, that means we don’t have resources for the next fires that may occur in the weeks ahead. (Transferring operational management) to the Idaho teams allows us to get ready for the next one.”
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