The Latest: South Carolina extends burning ban in Piedmont

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2016 7:33 PM
The Latest: South Carolina extends burning ban in Piedmont

ATLANTA (AP) — The Latest on wildfires and drought in the southeastern U.S. (all times local):

7:15 p.m.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission has expanded its burning ban from five Upstate counties to all 19 Piedmont counties.

A statement from the commission said the ban took effect at 6 p.m. Thursday.

State Forester Gene Kodama expanded the ban because of weather conditions in the Piedmont that led to an elevated risk of wildfire. The commission's statement also said the diversion of resources to a wildfire in Pickens County also led to the expanded burning ban.

A wildfire on Pinnacle Mountain at Table Rock State Park has grown from 15 to 250 acres in the past 24 hours because of dry conditions. The commission is sending extra firefighters to the area in addition to deploying an incident management team.

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6 p.m.

The growing fire threat is prompting new restrictions on smoking, campfires and other potential fire hazards starting Friday morning at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Fireworks will be prohibited, stoves, lanterns and heating devices limited, and campfires allowed only in designated campgrounds and picnic areas where grills and metal fire rings are provided.

Smoking will be permitted only in vehicles, buildings or in developed recreation sites or areas cleared at least three feet in diameter of all flammable material.

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5:50 p.m.

More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have come to the Southeast, because that's where the wildfires are right now.

Regional aviation director Shardul Raval of the U.S. Forest Service says the effort includes about 40 aircraft, and that three large air tankers are flying out of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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5:45 p.m.

South Carolina's drought hasn't improved since its Drought Response Committee declared severe-drought status in three counties in the western part of the state.

But Hope Mizzell, state climatologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, doesn't need the committee to meet again to know nothing has improved, since there hasn't been normal rainfall since then.

Meanwhile, a wildfire that began Wednesday in Table Rock State Park on the North Carolina line had jumped to 250 acres by Thursday afternoon, said Darryl Jones, fire chief at the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

South Carolina has imposed a ban on outdoor burning in five counties.

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3 p.m.

The numbers are in from Mississippi: Since September 1, the state Forestry Commission has responded to 884 wildfires that burned 7,798 acres and damaged or destroyed 43 structures. But a total of 1,324 other structures were saved by firefighters.

The drought continues to make for an extremely high fire risk across most of Mississippi, where outdoor burning is banned in 76 of 82 counties. Forestry Commission spokeswoman Brighton Forester said Thursday that no active fires were being suppressed.

Neither are there active fires in Louisiana, where 59 of 64 parishes remain under a burn ban.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry's commissioner, Mike Strain, says that since drought conditions began in the state on Oct. 11, wildland fire crews have responded to 140 wildfires burning nearly 619 acres.

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2:30 p.m.

Authorities say that one of the largest wildfires in the south — Georgia's "Rough Ridge fire" in the Cohutta Wilderness area — has grown rapidly in the past 24 hours as high winds spread flames through the forest.

The U.S. Forest Services said in a Thursday update that the fire has now consumed more than 10,000 acres of forest just south of the Georgia-Tennessee line.

The forest service said a total of nearly 300 firefighters and other personnel are now battling that fire.

Authorities said the fire is only 13 percent contained.

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12:20 p.m. (CST)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will help Tennessee pay for some costs to fight spreading wildfires.

A FEMA news release says the agency agreed Wednesday to reimburse 75 percent of Tennessee's costs to fight the Flipper Bend fire, which has burned more than 800 acres north of Chattanooga.

The fire was threatening 45 homes in and around the Boston Branch community. About 15 to 20 homes were required to evacuate. Evacuations are expected to increase.

State forestry officials say 53 fires are currently burning more than 9,680 acres.

In Hamilton County, officials say the Sheriff's Office is asking another small neighborhood near Mowbray Mountain to evacuate.

On Tuesday, FEMA similarly agreed to help Kentucky cover some firefighting costs in Breathitt County, where a fire spanning more than 2,000 acres threatened 1,100 homes.

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12 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency because of the wildfires in the western part of the state.

McCrory issued the declaration late Thursday morning to help the state's efforts in handling more than 20 wildfires.

McCrory pointed out that while eastern North Carolina grapples with recovery from the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, the western part of the state has been suffering drought conditions for weeks.

The state of emergency is in effect in 25 western counties. Outdoor burning has been banned in those counties. Some evacuations have been ordered in five counties.

A National Guard helicopter and technicians have been deployed to help with any rescues that might be needed.

McCrory says the fires are some of the worst in North Carolina in nearly 20 years.

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11:25 a.m.

Federal authorities say warmer-than-average temperatures and no rainfall are deepening a drought that's sparking forest fires across the Southeastern U.S., forcing people to evacuate dozens of homes.

Thursday's national drought report shows 41.6 million people in parts of 15 southern states now live in drought conditions. The worst is in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, but extreme drought also is spreading into western North and South Carolina.

Most of the large fires Thursday are being fought in Tennessee and Kentucky.

In the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, people living on five roads near one roaring blaze were advised to leave their homes, and residents of 38 more homes in another part of the state were told to evacuate ahead of a separate wildfire.