Crews continue to battle brush fires

FRANKLIN COUNTY Brush fires continue to burn in Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Nash and Halifax counties.

North Carolina forestry spokesman Brian Haines says crews worked through a second day to control the fires. Haines says some fires were caused when power lines were blown down and others were caused by careless trash burning Sunday.

Progress Energy says only fewer than 150 customers are without power in North Carolina and South Carolina, down from a peak of 24,000. Duke Energy says more than 5,000 customers in both states were without power. The largest number was more than 3,000 in Forsyth County.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph toppled trees and fanned brush fires across North Carolina Sunday. One brush fire closed a portion of Interstate 85, forced a church to evacuate during worship services and downed power lines across Interstate 40.

The Department of Transportation reported Sunday night that I-85 was closed in both directions between mile marker 206 and 209 southwest of Henderson. That stretch of highway was reopened shortly after 9 p.m., a dispatcher said.

With water packs on their backs and shovels in their hands, firefighters in Franklin County spent Monday tackling hotspots in the woods around William Burwell's house.

His is one of several homes that have been threatened by brush fires since Sunday. The Burwell's live at the end of a long dirt road surrounded by woods. "When we came in here yesterday evening, I had never experienced anything like this. It was dark, you couldn't see, smoke everywhere and by us having one way out it was like a panic mode you know, just grab something and get out," Burwell said.

He grabbed a shirt and took his family to a shelter Sunday. He returned Monday to see his home barely spared. "You see the burn spots in the back yard, in the front yard it was up to the steps," Burwell explained.

Flames from the brush fire around William Burwell's home burned through another mobile home only leaving the oven and sink visible from the yard.

Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Abbott said I-40 in Guilford County was closed because of fallen power lines blamed on the high winds.

All of the state was under a red flag warning, meaning outdoor burning is prohibited. The warning stems from the passage of a strong cold front that whipped up the strong winds. The warning was cancelled for southeastern counties Sunday night.

Officials with the state Division of Forest Resources reported brush fires in at least seven counties in eastern North Carolina. Firefighters in Tyrrell County were facing a 300-acre fire which was threatening some buildings.

The division also reported 250-acre fires in Chowan and Camden counties, and smaller fires in Pasquotank, Gates, Dare and Washington counties.

In the Research Triangle area, high winds were blamed for a brush fire that burned about 50 acres near the Johnston County community of Cleveland. While about 20 homes were endangered, none was damaged.

However, two empty barns burned down, said Cleveland Fire Chief Chris Ellington. About 60 firefighters from several departments responded. A plow and helicopter from the N.C. Division of Forest Resources also battled the wildfire.

Ellington said no injuries were reported, but that firefighters were having their vital signs checked by emergency medical personnel, who made sure they also rehydrated.

Willow Spring Free Will Baptist Church was holding worship services when the fire started had to be evacuated, Ellington said. No one was hurt.

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