Crews battling 75-acre wildfire at south mountains state park

08 November 2016

published by http://www.morganton.com


USA —   CONNELLY SPRINGS — Crews are battling a wildfire at South Mountains State Park that began late Sunday.

Adrian O’Neal, a chief of operations with the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, said that as of 3 p.m. Monday, fire lines have been set in the hopes of containing the fire to its current 75 acres. The fire is affecting the Chestnut Knob area of the park and its cause is still unknown.

O’Neal said it was difficult to know how long the fire will burn or how far it might spread, dependent on the weather. O’Neal said crews from the North Carolina Forestry Service were onsite Monday afternoon, along with park staff.

“They have a pretty good perimeter on the fire,” O’Neal said. “We’re hoping we can hold it to 75 acres. We’ve got two (N.C. Forest Service Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing, Employing) crews in there, along with a hotshot crew from forestry and 14 park staff. We’re just in the process of trying to contain this fire and get it knocked down.”

South Mountains State Park has closed hiking trails and back country sites due to the fire, according to a message posted on its website Monday. The memo from the park says that even activities on trails and in areas of the park away from the fire would be unpleasant due to large amounts of smoke.

Cecil Huffman with the Burke County Office said that a truck from South Mountains Volunteer Fire Department had responded to the fire as well. Huffman confirmed that representatives from the Burke County Fire Marshal’s Office had been on scene earlier Monday to lend assistance.

O’Neal said the parks service continues to advise extreme caution with fires in the current dry conditions. South Mountains State Park has issued a complete fire ban.

“The thing that we’re doing in state parks right now is limiting any fires in the campgrounds to charcoal fires and gas stoves and things like that so that we don’t have any debris going up into the air,” he said. “We do remind folks that if they do have a charcoal fire, not to put fuels on it such as pine needles, leaves or anything like that because that causes ashes and embers to fly into the air.

“Those flying embers, a lot of times, can travel a very long way. With the dry factor that we’ve got going on in the mountains right now, that can be very hazardous.”

O’Neal said the crews on scene at the fire were doing a “tremendous” job combating the flames with the current priority of keeping it away from any residential areas. O’Neal said the parks service will issue updates on the fire periodically.

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba and Nkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

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