Efforts underway to keep wildfire west of Outer Banks from igniting nutrient-rich peat soil

Efforts underway to keep wildfire west of Outer Banks from igniting nutrient-rich peat soil

March 28th, 2023

Firefighters made more progress on controlling a wildfire that ignited Friday on the mainland of northeastern North Carolina, and crews are now preparing efforts to prevent ignition of organic peat soils just underground that could smolder for months.

The Last Resort Fire in Tyrrell County is now 5,384 acres in size and 48% contained as of 4 p.m., March 28.

The odor of smoke has wafted in the air across portions of the area since Friday night, and even as far away as northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and the Maryland suburbs on Monday.

The Last Resort Fire has burned private lands and inside the north central border area of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Tyrrell County. [NCFS map]

Operational resources working the fire include 67 personnel from the N.C. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There have been no injuries and no structures threatened.

The cause of the fire was determined to be a debris burn on private land that escaped containment.

Infrared drone flights revealed significant heat in the fire area overnight Tuesday, according to a N.C. Forest Service news release.

Those flights will continue to evaluate the extent of ground fire as personnel develop a plan to utilize nearby fresh water sources to minimize loss of organic soil.

Both fire and salt water will destroy peat soils. Protecting pocosins is foundational to healthy ecological and human communities, the forest service said.

Areas on the mainland have been prone to wildfires that have burned the nutrient-rich peat soils for months, especially during periods of extended drought.

In the spring of 2016, the Whipping Creek Fire burned over 15,000 acres in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in mainland Dare and Hyde counties and the Dare Bombing Range.

While the summer of 2016 was wetter than normal, helping ease drought conditions somewhat, it took Hurricane Matthew that October to finally help extinguish the fire with its record-setting rainfall and flooding.

During another serious drought year in 2011, the Pains Bay Fire burned over 45,000 acres of the refuge and bombing range while threatening to spread into the village of Stumpy Point.

That fire smoldered for months with smoke plumes visible from more than 100 miles away, that would blanket the Outer Banks with a thick, acrid haze for days when the winds blew the right direction.

It took rains from Hurricane Irene at the end of August to finally put it out.

To protect the organic peat soils, reduce smoke impacts and prevent reburn in the Last Resort Fire zone, irrigation systems are being staged for water pumping operations to begin in the coming days.

Significant smoke is possible and may result in tedious travel conditions in communities southeast of the fire near Greenville, Beaufort and Little Washington can expect smoke impacts overnight.

Communities south of the fire area near Belhaven, Pantego, Fairfield and Swan Quarter can expect smoke impacts early Wednesday morning.

In the interest of safety, residents and commuters may want to consider allowing for extra travel time or plan to take alternate routes. Overnight, a combination of smoke and fog could lead to low visibility in some areas.

Those commuting Wednesday morning should remain alert and attentive to signage. Road closures may be implemented as needed.

A temporary flight restriction (TFR) has been issued for the Last Resort Fire. The TFR restricts all civilian aircraft, manned and unmanned, within 5 miles of the fire. The flight restriction remains in place until aviation support is no longer needed.

For information updates, visit www.ncforestservice.gov/fire_control/sit_report.htm.

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