ASHEVILLE, NC (WNCN) – Evacuations are now taking place in five North Carolina mountain counties as nearly 20 wildfires totaling more than 10,000 acres continue to spread.
In addition to existing evacuations in the Rutherford County town of Lake Lure, Graham, Swain, Clay and Macon counties are evacuating residents on Wednesday as wildfires threaten homes.
Meanwhile, firefighters battling a wildfire near Lake Lure are finding a new challenge as wind gusts up to 30 mph fan the flames and hinder efforts to attack the blaze from the air.
Officials were hoping to provide air support to the fire near Lake Lure that had spread to 344 acres, but the windy conditions prevented helicopters from getting into the air and dropping water on the blaze, Victoria Tillotson of the N.C. Forest Service told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
On the ground, crews were strengthening and maintaining fire containment lines. A main priority was continuing to keep fire lines clear of leaves and other debris to limit the amount of fuel the fire can burn.
However, Lake Lure on Wednesday sent out “standby evacuation notices” for many homes in the Rumbling Bald Resort, which is near the fire at Party Rock on Rumbling Bald Mountain.
During the night Tuesday, personnel at Lake Lure worked to protect up to 35 homes that were threatened.
The most recent evacuations ordered Wednesday afternoon were for Hayesville in Clay County, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said.
Because of growth of the 1,713 acre Boteler Fire, mandatory evacuations were issued for Cedar Cliff Road, Pounding Mill Road and Pounding Mill Loop.
Evacuations were also ordered for Nelson Ridge Road and Cold Branch Road from Nelson Ridge Road intersection south to Cold Branch Drive, Clay County officials said.
In Swain County, officials Wednesday ordered mandatory evacuations for all of Taylor Road and the portion of Silver Mine Road south of the Taylor Road intersection.
Swain County officials said they are in the process of setting up a shelter for evacuated residents.
Also, evacuations notices have been issued to Macon County residents who are in “immediate danger,” Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
In Macon County there are several blazes including two large fires in the Tellico and Queens Creek communities.
Evacuations in Macon County include the Queens Creek area of Nantahala and the Partridge Creek and Deweese Road area of Nantahala, officials say.
In Graham County, a fire known as the Old Roughy Fire, which is part of the Maple Springs Fire, has caused evacuations of 44 homes, officials said.
Although the Old Roughy Fire is only about 100 acres, it is located near homes on Ryefield, Jordan Hill, Hidden Falls, Lindy Branch, Gold Mine, Boyd Phillips, Hideaway Ridge Trail, Story Ridge Trail, Valley View Trail, and Timbercrest Trail, which are being evacuated, according to officials.
An evacuation center is being set up at the First Baptist Church at 101 Church Street in Robinsville.
More than 565 firefighters and support staff from more than 40 states are battling 18 wildfires in western North Carolina, including in the Nantahala National Forest, leading to emergency closures, including the Appalachian Trail, which is now closed from Rock Gap to the Nantahala River.
The largest fire is the Maple Springs Fire, which is North of Santeetlah Lake and encompasses 3,919 acres.
The second largest fire is 3,417 acres at Tellico, northwest of Franklin in the Nantahala Mountains, according to the U.S. Park Service.
Another large fire of 1,713 acres is at Boteler, Boteler Peak near Hayesville, the park service said. The Boteler fire is only 30 percent contained as of Tuesday, officials said
The Forest Service said in a news release that a burn ban began 5 p.m. Monday and is in effect until further notice.
The burn ban prohibits all open burning in the 25 affected counties, regardless of whether a permit was issued. No new permits will be issued until the ban is lifted.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report