Fire alert issued as dry, windy conditions continue

Photo/Chopper11 HD
February 21, 2011 5:18:15 PM PST
On Monday, an AccuWeather alert was issued as dry, windy conditions continued to cause fire concerns. Forecasters said high winds, low humidity and unseasonably warm temperatures were concerns across much of the state Monday. They said dead leaves and grasses ignite easily due to drought conditions and that winds allow fires to spread quickly.

The National Weather Service is recommending that people postpone outdoor burning until Wednesday or later.

Over the weekend, wind-driven wildfires swept across the state, destroying thousands of acres of land and prompting dozens of homes to be evacuated.

Firefighters continued to battle a massive wildfire Monday that sparked on Saturday in Warren County. It ended up torching more than 2,000 acres. The fire has been contained, but crews continue to battle hotspots.

About a dozen homes were threatened and South Warren Elementary had to be closed Monday because of the fire.

It wasn't the only fire in the area over weekend. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources says 288 wildfires burned nearly 3,000 acres on Saturday.

Dozens of homes were evacuated around the state mostly due to smoke and all evacuees had returned home by Sunday afternoon.

In north Raleigh, residents were assessing the damage after a brush fire whipped out of control at a Wakefield Plantation on Saturday.

On Monday, the black cloud on the Wakefield Golf Course Monday was not smoke, but ashes and dust kicked up by grounds crews working to fix the Wakefield Golf Course. They're dragging equipment through the burned Bermuda grass in hopes of being able to reopen holes 12 and 13 on the golf course by Wednesday.

At the height of Saturday's fire -- Chopper 11 HD captured the flames threatening nearby homes, with neighbors using their garden hoses to protect their houses.

"I was on 911 with the dispatcher and he said, 'go find it,'" said Cathy Quezada, an eyewitness say retired Los Angeles sheriff's deputy. "I went back there and took the hose and started spraying off some hotspots. I just wanted to make sure that nobody got hurt."

Three homes sustained minor damage - melted vinyl siding, but no structure damage.

The fire was apparently caused by a careless smoker driving along Falls of the Neuse Road just outside the Wakefield Community.

"Some sort of object was thrown out of the window, a cigarette or a match, along Falls of Neuse then spread to the greenway and along the course ... recover from that," Wakefield Marketing Director Michael Thomas said.

No one was seriously injured, but one firefighter had to be taken to the hospital for dehydration.

"We just ran out on the golf course and there were people, like on golf carts coming down really fast," eyewitness Kylie Schluter said. "They told us not to go up because the fire was spreading so fast. I mean something so small that can cause that much damage, that's crazy. That's really careless."

"It was really scary," eyewitness Katrina Schluter said. "I was like nervous that something was going to happen."

Officials say there were nearly 100 fires across the state over the weekend.

In Wake County, it took two fire departments to put out a brush fire that broke out near Triangle Town Center on Sunday.

"The dry brush and trees is just the right fuel for any spark, from a cigarette to people burning debris in their backyard," Durham County Forest Ranger, George Brown said.

In Orange County, flames ripped through a 5,600 square foot home early Sunday. It took firefighters several hours to put out the massive house fire.

Smoke alarms helped the family get out safely, but everything including a car in their garage was destroyed in the blaze.

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