Fire information meeting answers questions for Nantahala residents

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A community meeting held at SCC and hosted by the Southern Area Incident Management Red Team and US National Forest Nantahala District on Sunday afternoon drew around 250 people and answered questions for many residents in the Nantahala Gorge over the ongoing wildfires in their community.

More than 1,000 people are involved in fighting the fires in the Nantahala District in Swain, Macon and Clay counties.

The largest of the two fires in Swain, Tellico and Ferebee, combined over the weekend and are now being treated as one fire, Tellico. There are several other smaller fires.

Mike Dewitt, incident commander, spoke to the large crowd, confirming that most of the fires in the area are human caused and under investigation. The largest effort has been in protecting peoples’ homes--- over 600 have been impacted by the fires in the district, he said.

“We’re starting to get the upper hand on it,” he said of the Tellico fire, which was estimated at 13,360 acres.

Evacuations are examined on a daily basis, he said, and coordinated with county emergency personnel.

One person asked specifically about the fire on Silvermine Road, to which Dewitt said they have stopped the progress on.

A representative with the Department of Transportation said that the 10-mile section of Highway 19 through Nantahala Gorge would likely remain closed to thru traffic at least through tomorrow as they had someone assessing the risk of falling rock.

One of the biggest responses from the crowd was about the forecast of continued extreme drought conditions.

Dewitt said meteorologists think Western North Carolina will continue to have similar dry, windy conditions through mid-December.

“That’s when we are expecting a break in this pattern,” he said. “Some are saying we’ll have a drier than normal season.”

Then, the real gasp was exuded from the crowd when he shared the news that the area might not see rainfall that would bring about 1 ½ inches or more---enough to significantly impact the blazes---until March.

Also during his talk, Dewitt said the community has been extremely generous. He encourage people who want to help to make monetary donations to local fire departments.

Following questions and answers, many stuck around to look at maps and speak with USFS personnel.

“My concern is another fire getting started and the other is the day in and day out of dealing with the smoke,” said Jim Parham, who lives in Almond.

The meeting did provide some relief for area residents.

“I don’t feel so isolated now,” said Lisa Thomas, who lives in Fontana Lake Estates. Its comforting to know how many people are working on the fires and that they are under control, she added.

Susan Coe, who lives on Wiggins Creek Road, said she could see the flames about ¼ mile from her house. “It’s been a very anxious week,” she said. “It’s gotten way too close for comfort.”

So far, however, she’s not had to evacuate.

“We’ve been doing all the things they’ve been saying to do like clearing all the leaves, making sure the leaves are out of the gutters,” she said.

A few men from her neighborhood have assisted in the fire protection effort by bulldozing lines above their road and blowing leaves off the fire line.

Michael and Jennette Marceau of Nantahala Cabins have eight on-site cabins and two additional cabins in the gorge that they rent out to visitors. Since the wildfires have broken out more than a week ago, they said only three renters have rescheduled their visits.

They did have to move two renters from the off-site cabins to on-site cabins this week. They have been following updates on the wildfires closely.

“All it takes is the wind to change directions,” Michael said.

Smoky Mountain Times

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