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Monday, April 1, 2024

Firefighters Spend Easter Weekend Protecting Homes and Communications Infrastructure from Wildfires
Updated With Video From Cowee VFD

A DC-10 Tanker passing north of Franklin on its way back to Chattanooga after making several runs at the fire on Cowee Bald Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Bobby Coggins)

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The NC Forest Service responded to 177 fires that consumed 1,545.4 acres over the weekend in North Carolina. Here is a report on the two that required response in Macon County.

Sugar Fork Fire (NC Forest Service and Cowee VFD Primary in Macon County)

This fire was reported late Saturday afternoon near Sugar Fork Road in the Savannah Fire District in Jackson County. Savannah VFD, NC Forest Service and US Forest Service responded to the fire. A little after noon on Sunday, the fire approached the radio towers at the top of Cowee Bald. 

Cowee VFD, Burningtown VFD, Squad 4, and Franklin VFD sent apparatus and personnel to assist fighting this fire and protecting the communications infrastructure at the top of the mountain. Wildlife and MCSO were dispatched to assist with handling civilians who were in the area. Later, the Sheriff's Office response was cancelled by the Wildlife Officer. A civilian Black Hawk from Tennessee was contracted by the US Forest Service to drop water on the fire. (See video posted on Facebook of the helicopter refilling with water at Lake Emory).

A DC-10 Tanker and spotter aircraft flew in from Chattanooga to fight the fire. The DC-10 made numerous passes on the fire. (See video posted by a reader of the DC-10 making a run on the fire

Shortly after the DC-10 left, the local VFDs were gradually released over time, with Cowee VFD being the last to leave. (Below is a video posted on Facwebook by Cowee VFD on the tanker making a pass at the fire. Even though it was shot in a vertical format instead of horizontally, we'll allow it).

The NC Forest Service reports the fire is 19 acres in size and 0% contained.

Wheat Field Fire (Otto VFD and NC Forest Service Primary)

This fire was reported on Saturday afternoon as the result of a vehicle fire that quickly spread into the wood on very rough terrain between Wheat Field Road and Still House Road off Tessentee Road east of Otto, NC. Otto VFD, Clarks Chapel VFD, Squad 4, and Franklin VFD responded, with some personnel and apparatus being dedicated to structure protection. Personnel from other departments also responded, including a crew from Nantahala VFD, to provide manpower assistance.

Macon County EMS had to pull the ambulance that was on standby at Tessentee Baptist Church due to the number of firefighters in the woods to respond to EMS calls and Rabun County EMS was unable to assist due to the call volume in their county. Once the call volume dropped, Macon County EMS sent an ambulance to standby at the intersection of US-441 and Tessentee Road.

Several NC Forest Service aircraft assisted with the fire, including a couple spotter aircraft and a Huey spent hours observing and dropping water on the fire. (See short video of the helicopter on Facebook

The fire was in very rugged terrain with laurel thickets and cliffs involved in the fire.

Later in the day, three aircraft responded from Hickory to drop water on the fire. A B.R.I.D.G.E. crew responded to assist with expanding fire lines and tackling hot spots in the interior of the fire lines. A little before 10pm on Sunday night, Otto VFD and NC Forest Service were again called out to the fire on a report of open flames being observed by a nearby homeowner. The response was cancelled after firefighters determined it was just a snag inside the fire lines that had flared up.

The NC Forest Service reports this fire is 100% contained and reached 13 acres in size.