This story was produced by NC Policy Watch.

by Lisa Sorg

At least 15 percent of one of the state’s most popular parks, Pilot Mountain, has burned in a wildfire, according to state and federal data, and the blaze is still not under control. The fire has consumed more than 570 of the park’s 3,872 acres.

Smoke drifted over US 421 in Winston-Salem Monday afternoon, blown in from fire, which is less than 30 miles north of the city. Extremely fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 prompted the EPA to issue a a Code Red air quality alert for Surry, Yadkin, western Forsyth, northeastern Iredell, and Davie counties. Code Red means air quality is unhealthy, not only for people with heart or lung disease, but even low-risk groups. The EPA advises people to reduce the time spent outdoors and to avoid strenuous activities, like running.

Red represents areas where air quality is considered unhealthy for both low-risk and at-risk people. Orange designates areas where the air is unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, including asthma. Yellow shows where air quality is moderate. (Map: AirNow.gov)

Other nearby counties were under a Code Orange, meaning air quality is unhealthy for sensitive people.

Red represents areas where air quality is considered unhealthy for both low-risk and at-risk people. Orange designates areas where the air is unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, including asthma. Yellow shows where air quality is moderate. (Map: AirNow.gov)

The incident at Pilot Mountain in Surry County, is known as the Grindstone fire. Human activity caused the incident, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, although it’s unclear whether it was accidental or intentional.

A campfire started a second blaze, at Sauratown Mountain, in Stokes County, which has charred 40 acres. The NC Forest Service reports that 95% of that fire is under control. Federal data show the cost of extinguishing the fire has exceeded nearly $278,000.

These fires are just two of the 697 reported in November, according to the NC Forest Service — 50 of them on Monday alone. More than 1,600 acres on private and state-owned land have burned.

Extremely dry as well as windy conditions have prompted the NC Forest Service to issue a statewide burn ban, which prohibits all open burning. Violators can be fined $100 plus $183 court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire.

More than three-quarters of North Carolina have been classified as abnormally dry or in a moderate drought, according to the state drought monitor. Stokes and Surry counties are listed as abnormally dry, but new data will be released Wednesday morning.

The number of fires this year — 2,801, with nearly 8,500 acres burned– has already exceeded the total for 2020. Last year, the NC Forest Service reported 2,302 fires and 7,829 acres.

These are the locations of all reported wildfires as of Nov. 30. Brown signifies fires that have been contained; the rest are listed as either active or reported. (Map: NC Forest Service)

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