10/25/07 — Burning could put homes at great risk

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Burning could put homes at great risk

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 25, 2007 1:46 PM

Residents in some areas of Wayne County could be playing with disaster if they -- or anyone else -- ignore a statewide burning ban, local officials say.

Fires in wooded areas are dramatically up in 2007, Wayne County Forest Ranger Dwight Bryant said.

"We've had 130 fires in wooded areas. On a normal year, we'll average 80 to 100," Bryant said.

And wooded areas encasing residential neighborhoods -- places like Walnut Creek and Sleepy Creek -- are potential fire disaster areas, the ranger said.

"Places like Walnut Creek and Sleepy Creek are very dangerous because of the housing," Bryant said.

To address that potential problem, the ranger said he plans public education sessions with residents from both areas once a training officer returns from another engagement.

"We're not trying to tell people that they shouldn't be living in places like that. They're very beautiful places to live," Bryant said.

But folks who invest substantial amounts of money in leafy-green seclusion should also be aware of the potential for danger, the ranger said.

"(The presentations) are basically on what they can do to protect their houses," Bryant said. "Some of the things we're concerned about are spread rates and field types in certain areas of the county."

Jeff Wharton, who heads the Walnut Creek Crime Watch, said such presentations would be well-received.

"Definitely, that's a very high concern of mine and the neighborhoods," Wharton said. "We're a pretty close-knit group, so there's a pretty good information network that goes around."

But even if every Walnut Creek resident is well-informed about burn bans and the potential of fire, they can't stop everything taking place around them, the ranger said.

"The fire could come from wherever and be a threat to homes, it could come off the road out there," Bryant said.

In the meantime, with two months left in the year and a statewide burn ban in place, Bryant figures the work of the Forestry Service in Wayne County is far from over.

With fires already over average and dry conditions prevailing, prevention is the word, the ranger said.

"With the burning ban in effect, that's making our calls increase. We're having a lot of people who are burning," Bryant said.

Handling those issues involves a slightly complicated formula -- fires within 100 feet of a house are handled by county authorities.

Fires beyond 100 feet from a house are handled by the N.C. Division of Forest Resources, Bryant said.

And Bryant would hope to avoid the wind-stoked fires that reportedly destroyed more than 700 homes near San Diego.

The fires there are not yet quite severe enough to warrant fire personnel being sent from Wayne County, but one Forestry Service worker is on call for a helicopter crew, Bryant said.

"We're not really dispatching anybody," Bryant said. "We have a lady that's on call to go out to the western part of the state, but no, we're not dispatching to California just yet."