Firefighters battle three-day wildfire

CUMBERLAND COUNTY Officials say the large fire along Johnson Road at Hwy 53 has spread across nearly 1,000 acres due to dry brush and pines. The wildfire started near Gray's Creek near the Cumberland-Bladen County line.

Weather permitting, firefighters plan to get fire lines around the blaze and let it burn itself out. They say for now, it's not threatening any homes or businesses.

The fire is believed to have started as a controlled burn near Johnson Road and Cedar Creek Road, but the wind kicked up and the flames, and they took off. However, investigators still haven't officially said what started the fire.

Firefighters do say cooler temperatures and higher humidity have helped keep the fire down some.

"The fire is just kind of working its way around. It's moving slowly. It's not making the big runs like you saw yesterday," said Diane Steltz with the North Carolina Forestry Service. It doesn't have the wind behind it pushing it. So its kind of burning as it goes along."

Firefighters say the blaze is 40 percent contained, but still threatens a nearby 3,400-acre wetlands restoration project.

Resident Charles Renkel says he has lived in the area all his life and has been watching the orange glow of the wildfire from house.

"This is Witch Weed. This stuff burns easily," Renkel said. "I'm surprised they let them burn here last week."

Officials say wind gusts have been hampering efforts to contain the blaze. So far, no injuries have been reported. Smoke has been more a nuisance than a health threat they said.

Firefighters are trying to protect homes and residents. Several homes were evacuated for a time Monday while firefighters worked to establish fire containment lines.

Part of Hwy 53 remains closed at Johnson Road to Harrison Creek as crews battle the blaze.

Another fire at Hwy 210 popped up earlier Monday evening just east of Vander, not far from Stedman. About 20 acres were torched.

It was the fourth to erupt in the Cape Fear region Monday. Robeson County and Scotland County also reported wildfires.

The National Weather Service is recommending that all outdoor burning be postponed.

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