Water from Phelps Lake, adjacent canals being pumped toward wildfire zone west of Outer Banks

Water from Phelps Lake, adjacent canals being pumped toward wildfire zone west of Outer Banks

March 30th, 2023

Water from North Carolina’s second-largest naturally-formed lake and canals in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is now being pumped towards a wildfire that has been burning since last Friday on mainland northeastern North Carolina. 

The Last Resort Fire in Tyrrell County remained at 5,293 acres in size and 48 percent contained, according to Thursday afternoon’s update from the N.C. Forest Service.

Irrigation systems are wetting the fire area along Western Road. Firefighting personnel have established pump sites at Phelps Lake and a fresh water canal alongside Seagoing Road. Water pumps were expected to be in service and moving water by Thursday evening.

Due to the distance between the fire area and closest water sources, water flowing into the fire area is still days away, the forest service said.

The Last Resort Fire has burned private lands and inside Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southern Tyrrell County. [NCFS map]

Water handling operations are crucial for pumping water and moving it to the fire area to minimize loss of organic soil, reduce smoke impacts and prevent reburn. Fresh water must be used for pumping operations, due to the damage salt water can cause to the soil and equipment.

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.

Cooler temperatures and recent rainfall this week have helped minimize smoke impacts. Communities northwest of the fire area near Roper and Plymouth can expect to smell smoke overnight and into Friday 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 Friday morning should remain alert and attentive to signage. Road closures may be implemented as needed.

Operational resources working the fire include 79 personnel from the N.C. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There have been no injuries and no structures threatened.

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.

A temporary flight restriction (TFR) remains in effect 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 https://inciweb.wildfire.gov/incident-information/ncpor-last-resort-fire.

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