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Wildfires Spread To 40,000 Acres, Cost State $10M

Gov. Pat McCrory talks to reporters after touring wildfire damage in Lake Lure Monday.
State of NC
Gov. Pat McCrory talks to reporters after touring wildfire damage in Lake Lure Monday.

Nearly 1,600 firefighters are now fighting wildfires that have burned 40,000 acres across western North Carolina over the past three weeks. Gov. Pat McCrory says the state has spent $10 million fighting the fires so far.

State officials say 19 separate fires are now burning. One of the largest is near Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Governor McCrory told reporters there the blazes are large and hard to fight.

"We've got California wildfires in North Carolina. And from all indications this is one of the worst conditions for wildfires North Carolina has ever seen, at least in our lifetime, and we're going to have to deal with it," McCrory told reporrters

Dry weather, low humidity and a lack of rainfall are to blame, and in some cases arson. Nobody has been hurt so far, but at least two structures have been destroyed.

Smoke from the fires is affecting air quality in the mountains and state officials are warning people with health issues to take precautions. The smoke also is making its way east into the Piedmont.   

Twenty-five counties are now under a state of emergency, and mandatory evacuations remain in effect for parts of Burke, Graham and Rutherford counties. Roads are closed in fire areas, as well as sections of the Appalachian Trail.

Fire crews from around the U.S. are helping, returning the favor for North Carolina's help in recent years. The state's costs are mounting, though the federal government likely will pay 75 percent. The expenses come on the heels Hurricane Matthew last month.

McCrory says he'll call a special legislative session soon to deal with hurricane recovery. He says he'll probably add the wildfires to the agenda, too.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.