RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — Evacuations were ordered in a sixth North Carolina mountain county on Saturday and masks were handed out while at least 20 wildfires continue to burn.
More than 1,000 firefighters are now battling the wildfires that have burned more than 23,000 acres in western North Carolina, officials said Saturday afternoon.
The latest county with evacuations is Henderson County, which issued a mandatory order for people who live near and on Shumont Road.
Earlier this week, evacuations were ordered in Lake Lure in Rutherford County along with mandatory evacuations in parts of Graham, Swain, Clay and Macon counties.
Henderson County authorities say they issued the order Saturday because of the fire’s potential to grow to the west and northwest.
A shelter is open at Bat Cave Baptist Church in Hendersonville. This shelter is also open to Buncombe County evacuees responding to a voluntary evacuation issued earlier Saturday.
The largest fire is now the Tellico Fire at just over 8,500 acres, while other large fires are the Boteler Fire at 7,000 acres and the Maple Springs Fire at 6,822 acres.
A large call was made statewide on Saturday in North Carolina seeking more fire crews to help in the mountains. Two engines, two brush trucks and 12 firefighters are being sent from Wake County to help, officials said.
In addition to 1,049 firefighters, there are six helicopters, 72 engines, 14 bulldozers and three water tenders helping to battle the wildfires.
In Macon County, special health masks were being made available Saturday.
Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said they’re distributing N95-rated masks as regular surgical masks don’t provide adequate protection from smoke particles.
The fires are producing so much smoke that the drifting smoke prompted air quality authorities to declare a Code Orange on Friday in Charlotte.
In North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, more than 20 wildfires have burned more than 17,000 acres and all of them are “being investigated for suspected arson,” federal forestry officials have said.
The federal government has approved a request for money to fight the blazes in western North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory said.
A grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will now pay 75 percent of the emergency protective measures taken in fighting the fires, McCrory said in a news release Saturday.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report