PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Forestry officials say the wildfire in the Holly Shelter Gameland is now 20% contained. The fire remains burning in a little more than 21,000 acres.\
The Forest Service recommends the website InciWeb.org for the latest updates on the fire.
Firefighters also continue to assess areas of the game land for burnout operations to help with containment. A successful burnout Saturday removed 300 acres of potential fuel for the fire.
Incident Commander Reid Hildreth said Saturday the Forest Service is planning more prevention burns in the a couple days. He said those fires will increase the total number of acres burned by thousands, but will also increase the containment percent.
Hildreth said the Juniper Road Fire, as it's named by InciWeb.org, is a top priority fire in the Southeast. He said there is equipment and specialist from as far as Tennessee fighting this fire.
The newest information was shared with residents of Holly Shelter at a community meeting Saturday night. The Forest Service will hold similar meetings Sunday night at 7 in Maple Hill and Monday night at the same time at Topsail High School
Thursday night, it rained about a half inch in the game land., but officials say they're still assessing what effect that actually had on containing the fire.
The storms did bring a lot of lightning over the area and they are concerned about possible flare-ups. They won't know for several days if that is the case because the fire can smolder in the peat moss for days at a time.
Fire officials say they are keeping a close eye on wind patterns to determine where the fire will move next. They believe the winds will start to die down this weekend or early next week, which will cause the smoke to start billowing.
Authorities are spending time with residents to make sure they know how to keep their homes safe. A flaming ember is enough to spark a fire.
Thursday, officials closed a shelter at Topsail Elementary School for victims of the fire that has been burning in Pender County for most of the week.
A release from Tom Collins, Emergency Management Director, said anyone needing shelter is asked to call Pender County Dispatch at 910-259-1515. Emergency Management will re-open shelters as the need arises.
The wind was in fire crews favor Thursday as they worked on a burnout operation in an attempt to contain the wildfire on Juniper Road in Pender County. During a burnout, firefighters create a perimeter by burning vegetation so the wildfire can't spread past a certain point.
Collins said it is likely emissions from the wildfire will extend up the eastern seaboard and cover most of North East Pender County. The smoke plume has reached 19,000 feet, according to the National Weather Service Radar.
Onslow County spokeswoman Lisa Whitman-Grice said the thick smoke in the area has made it difficult to completely assess the area.
Pender County is in the highest fire alert status in the state due to drought conditions. According to the National Weather Service, a burn ban is in effect in Pender and surrounding counties until further notice.
Whitman-Grice said the fire remains concentrated near the Pender-Onslow county line northwest of Holly Ridge. A state of emergency was issued Wednesday afternoon in Onslow County as a result of the fires.
According to officials, the fire is moving towards NC53 and NC50 (Maple Hill area). Forestry is plowing multiple fire lines in hopes of keeping it from crossing the highways. Drivers should expect to see detours in place.
No homes are in danger at this time, and Collins said firefighters will alert residents in the event that an evacuation is needed. Fire officials say protecting homes is a top priority, in addition to keeping the animals safe.
The Sampson County Livestock Arena in Clinton will act as a livestock shelter. It will open Thursday until 7 p.m. and will be reopened as needed. Any persons interested in using the arena as a shelter needs to contact Emily Herring at 910-604-3378 ahead of time to inform of the arrival of animals. Animals will be dropped off and left to the care of the Sampson County Animal Response Team.
NC Forestry issued a voluntary evacuation Wednesday afternoon for the areas between Shepard Road and Padgett Road along NC Highway 50. Officials had opened a shelter at Topsail Elementary Wednesday, but have since closed it because no one was going to it. Collins said, however, another shelter will open somewhere else if there becomes a need.
The Holly Shelter Gameland is closed to the public and will be strictly enforced.
Fire officials say the wind is helping to protect homes and structures in the area, but 6-8 inches of rain will be needed to make a dent in the fire. Collins believes the fire could burn throughout the summer.
The fire is believed to have started over the weekend after a lightning strike late Friday night. The fire was contained on Saturday near Juniper Rd, but flared up again in the hot weather of Monday afternoon.
High temperatures and dry conditions continue to plague much of southeastern North Carolina. The high temperature at ILM International Airport on Monday reached 101 degrees, breaking the old record of 99 for the date.
A severe drought also remains in effect for much of eastern NC, with all of Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick County in the "severe drought" classification.
Rain chances remain small through this weekend, according to First Alert Meteorologist Robb Ellis. However, isolated showers could bring much needed rain, if the area of the fire gets lucky. Lightning strikes from isolated thunderstorms could bring back the fire danger as long as dry conditions persist.
Fire officials say they have about half the amount of personnel they would like to for this wildfire, because they are battling fires in neighboring counties as well.
Additional smaller fires have been reported in northern Bladen County (near Little Singletary Lake), western Pender County (near the Bladen County line) and in Columbus County, south of Lake Waccamaw.
Fire crews from Pender County are exhausted. Many are dealing with heat exhaustion. The Hampstead Chamber is collecting water and Gatorade to give to the firefighters as they do all they can to contain the fires.
Donations are being collected at the Hampstead Volunteer Fire Department, Sloop Point Volunteer Fire Department or the Greater Hampstead Chamber of Commerce. If you bring your donations to the GHCOC after hours, leave them on the front porch.
According to NHC Deputy Fire Chief Matt Davis, Pender County has requested NHC Fire Engine Company to respond to the Hampstead/Sloop Point region to standby for emergencies. An engine from the Porters Neck station arrived mid-morning to respond to calls in that area as a result of the Holly Shelter fire.