Pilot Mountain fire will bring new growth to mountain, ecology experts say

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The Grindstone Fire at Pilot Mountain continued to burn Wednesday.“Our resources are tasked. They’re stretched thin and they’re fatigued right now,” said Jimmy Holt, of the North Carolina Forest Service. “We’re going to be vigilant. We’re not going to be complacent. We’re going to stay on our toes with this one. The firefighters are not letting their guard down.”Holt said fire crews were monitoring the fire on the ground and in the sky; He said planes, using infrared technology, are flying the area to look for areas that are still burning. Holt said all fire remained inside of the containment lines.“We have a really good feel for how things have been going,” Holt said.The fire began Saturday and, in the days, since dozens of firefighters have spent hours fighting the fire on Pilot’s tough terrain. Officials stressed to crews that they must watch for rolling rocks and logs on the rocky and steep terrain, according to an incident action plan obtained by WXII 12.According to the report, gusts of wind are increasing the number of leaves on the ground, further fueling the fire. In some places, crews saw 4-to-6-foot flames, the report said.“They’re wetting down hot spots, 50 to 100 feet in off the line. They’re doing snagging operations, which some of our really trained personnel with saws will go in and put those burning dead, trees on the ground.”The Grindstone Fire, according to Holt, was 50 percent contained as of Wednesday night. Holt said investigators determined that a campfire in an unauthorized area started the blaze.North Carolina’s ecosystem has included fire for generations. Fire is common in this part of the country, according to Lauren Lowman, an engineering professor at Wake Forest University who studies fire and its impact on ecosystems. Lowman said the consequences of the fire on plants and other species on the mountain will largely depend on the severity of the fire. “We actually have a pretty long history and pretty frequent fire regime in this part of the country. A lot of the plants are actually well adapted to fire,” Lowman said. “Fires are important to maintaining what is this regular cycle of which plants are there and thriving and which get killed off and allowed to regrow later. Fire plays a really important role in governing that process.”David Vandermast, a biology professor at Elon University, also said fire plays an important role in the state and its natural cycles. He reiterated that many plants and trees are well adapted to fire in the area and that fire has played a role in the composition we see today.“Understanding the role that fire has to play historically is really important and almost throughout the entirety of North Carolina’s ecosystem fire was important,” he said. Vandermast expected Pilot in the spring will look much different than it did last year. With more sunlight being able to reach the forest floor and the ash helping wildflowers grow.Fire crews are also still monitoring Sauratown Mountain where there are pockets of fires that have reignited. Holt said that while efforts remained positive at Pilot, teams were “by no means ready to walk away from it.”

The Grindstone Fire at Pilot Mountain continued to burn Wednesday.

“Our resources are tasked. They’re stretched thin and they’re fatigued right now,” said Jimmy Holt, of the North Carolina Forest Service. “We’re going to be vigilant. We’re not going to be complacent. We’re going to stay on our toes with this one. The firefighters are not letting their guard down.”

Holt said fire crews were monitoring the fire on the ground and in the sky; He said planes, using infrared technology, are flying the area to look for areas that are still burning. Holt said all fire remained inside of the containment lines.

“We have a really good feel for how things have been going,” Holt said.

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The fire began Saturday and, in the days, since dozens of firefighters have spent hours fighting the fire on Pilot’s tough terrain. Officials stressed to crews that they must watch for rolling rocks and logs on the rocky and steep terrain, according to an incident action plan obtained by WXII 12.

According to the report, gusts of wind are increasing the number of leaves on the ground, further fueling the fire. In some places, crews saw 4-to-6-foot flames, the report said.

“They’re wetting down hot spots, 50 to 100 feet in off the line. They’re doing snagging operations, which some of our really trained personnel with saws will go in and put those burning dead, trees on the ground.”

The Grindstone Fire, according to Holt, was 50 percent contained as of Wednesday night. Holt said investigators determined that a campfire in an unauthorized area started the blaze.

North Carolina’s ecosystem has included fire for generations. Fire is common in this part of the country, according to Lauren Lowman, an engineering professor at Wake Forest University who studies fire and its impact on ecosystems.

Lowman said the consequences of the fire on plants and other species on the mountain will largely depend on the severity of the fire.

“We actually have a pretty long history and pretty frequent fire regime in this part of the country. A lot of the plants are actually well adapted to fire,” Lowman said. “Fires are important to maintaining what is this regular cycle of which plants are there and thriving and which get killed off and allowed to regrow later. Fire plays a really important role in governing that process.”

David Vandermast, a biology professor at Elon University, also said fire plays an important role in the state and its natural cycles. He reiterated that many plants and trees are well adapted to fire in the area and that fire has played a role in the composition we see today.

“Understanding the role that fire has to play historically is really important and almost throughout the entirety of North Carolina’s ecosystem fire was important,” he said.

Vandermast expected Pilot in the spring will look much different than it did last year. With more sunlight being able to reach the forest floor and the ash helping wildflowers grow.

Fire crews are also still monitoring Sauratown Mountain where there are pockets of fires that have reignited.

Holt said that while efforts remained positive at Pilot, teams were “by no means ready to walk away from it.”





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