Wildfires Rage across Southeastern States

All but two of 61 large fires nationwide are in the Southeast

An aircraft from the US Forestry Service drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning along the Flipper Bend area of Signal Mountain in Hamilton County, Tenn., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Wildfires burning across the South have created a smoky haze over metro Atlanta and prompted a public health advisory in Kentucky, and the forests are expected to continue burning for days as flaming leaves fall to the ground and spread the flames. Other fires were burning in parts of Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. (Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

An aircraft from the US Forestry Service drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning along the Flipper Bend area of Signal Mountain in Hamilton County, Tenn., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Wildfires burning across the South have created a smoky haze over metro Atlanta and prompted a public health advisory in Kentucky, and the forests are expected to continue burning for days as flaming leaves fall to the ground and spread the flames. Other fires were burning in parts of Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. (Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

 

JEFF MARTIN, Associated Press

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency because of the wildfires in the western part of the state.

McCrory issued the declaration late Thursday morning to help the state’s efforts in handling more than 20 wildfires.

McCrory pointed out that while eastern North Carolina grapples with recovery from the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, the western part of the state has been suffering drought conditions for weeks.

The state of emergency is in effect in 25 western counties. Outdoor burning has been banned in those counties. Some evacuations have been ordered in five counties.

A National Guard helicopter and technicians have been deployed to help with any rescues that might be needed.

McCrory says the fires are some of the worst in North Carolina in nearly 20 years.

Earlier:

ATLANTA (AP) — Unseasonably warm dry weather has deepened a drought that’s igniting forest fires across the southeastern U.S., forcing people to flee homes in the Appalachian Mountains and blanketing Atlanta in a smoky haze.

Thursday’s national drought report shows 41.6 million people in parts of 15 southern states living in drought conditions. The worst drought is in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, but extreme drought also is spreading into the western Carolinas, and Kentucky and Tennessee had the most fires.

All but two of the 61 active large wildfires nationwide Thursday were in the Southeast, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Nearly a dozen large fires were uncontained, with 14 more breaking out Thursday alone.

“Right now we’re kind of holding our own,” said Jennifer Turner, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky’s state Division of Forestry. “We’ve been able to get control over some of the smaller fires.”

Nearly 390 firefighters and support crews and half a dozen water-dumping helicopters were battling 20 fires in Kentucky Thursday that together have burned nearly 20,000 acres, Turner said.

Humidity is so low in the normally lush Appalachians that forestry officials are bracing for more.

North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for a fourth of his state’s 100 counties, to help with evacuations and provide more assets to fight the fires.

Authorities also made two arson arrests in eastern Kentucky, and citied another man for causing a brush fire while defying a burn ban. Tennessee authorities also reported arrests for arson and burning violations.

Bans on outdoor burning were in effect across the drought zone, and in Alabama, authorities extended that ban throughout the state, where drought is choking 80 percent of the land, drying up streams and lakes and killing plants. Firefighters were battling three active wildfires in Alabama on Thursday, the latest of more than 1,100 fires that have charred nearly 12,000 acres in the last month.

Tuscaloosa and Birmingham have both tied or broken records for days without measurable rain; neither has had more than sprinkles since late September. And Noccalula Falls, a popular attraction on Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama, has been bone dry for weeks.

“It’s fed by Black Creek and the creek is dry. There’s not even a trickle going over the falls,” Kaila Fair, manager at the adjoining campground, said Thursday.

In mountainous western North Carolina, people living on five roads near one roaring blaze were advised to leave their homes, and residents of 38 more homes in another part of the state were told to evacuate ahead of a separate wildfire.

A large wildfire burning through a rugged and thinly populated part of the north Georgia mountains this week created a smoky haze over Atlanta as winds blew the smoke into the city. Haze also settled over Chattanooga this week.

Drought conditions also are persisting in parts of the Florida panhandle and portions of Virginia, , Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana and Missouri, according to Drought Monitor, which is produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

___

Associated Press contributors include Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Ky.; and Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.