PILOT MOUNTAIN — As fire continued to burn on Pilot Mountain for the third day on Saturday, people in and around that area were still fascinated to see the sight that is marked with smoke that covers the local landscape.
Charlie Peek, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation’s public information officer, said Saturday afternoon that between 150 to 200 acres have burned so far and it is anticipated that close to 1,000 acres will burn before the fire is completely extinguished.
But John Shelton, Surry County Emergency Services director, had reported the fire had burned nearly 700 acres of the state park as of Saturday morning.
Peek said, “It’s going quite well. What we developed is a plan of containment on this fire. Today we cut a fire line that completely encircles the fire that is a quarter-mile inside the park boundary. The fire itself has been advancing slowly at a very low intensity. Today, it’s been advancing to the east and northeast.”
He said on Saturday evening, there were 45 state park and North Carolina Forest Service personnel working the fire.
“They are pulling back right now. They will be monitoring those lines through night,” Peek said.
Around 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Shoals Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to 1183 Pinnacle Hotel Road where it was believed the fire had crossed onto private property, but upon getting to the scene, officials reported the fire was approaching the fire lines, but had not left state park property. They were remaining on the scene to monitor the fire.
Some area residents have expressed concern about the animal and snake population on the mountain. Peek said snakes will burrow down into the ground and other woodland creatures will and have sought retreat off the mountain.
Early Saturday morning, the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to help protect the building that contains the restrooms near the parking lot on top of the mountain. Peek said that structure was not harmed.
Peek said he has no estimation as to when the fire will be extinguished or when the park will re-open.
“Boy, I wish I knew. It’s moving so slowly,” he said.
He said he wasn’t sure how much it’s going to cost the state to fight the fire. He said a person with the N.C. Forest Service will begin calculating that figure and it should be available on Sunday.
He said that losing tourism dollars will be an unfortunate effect of this fire. He said 400,000 people visit the park annually. He noted that since the tourism season on the mountain is winding down, hopefully that will cause a lesser impact on tourism.
Peek said the large trees on the mountain have not been affected by the fire. He said what is burning is mainly leaves and undergrowth.
“It has not hurt the large timber at all. It will be beautiful in the spring,” Peek said. “People are not going to find a devastated forest.”
Reach Mondee Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1930.