On Thursday, Dec. 4, 1941, newspapers in Western North Carolina revealed cities in full holiday swing — ads for Philco tube radios, canned Christmas hams and silk stockings filled their pages, along with announcements for holiday parties and special sales.

Despite gusty winds, dust-dry forests and interminable drought, firefighters made significant headway over the last week toward containing Western North Carolina’s explosive wildfire season, jumping on new starts to keep their acreages low and limiting existing fires to minimal acreage growth.

Western North Carolina is ablaze with 22 wildfires currently burning through more than 50 square miles in the seven most western counties. Smoke from the fires is posing health hazards while continued severe drought conditions are leaving many communities with a limited water supply.

Holding the line
Arson suspected in WNC fires
Fleeing fire
Local water supplies drying up
Wildfires torment residents, tourism
Dangerous smoke hazard persists throughout WNC

Two dozen or so forest fires in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Western North Carolina have forced mandatory evacuations in WNC, but the impact is being felt and smelt far beyond the remote coves where they smolder. 

Our backyard is on fire.

From Knoxville to Asheville, a large cloud of smoke is currently hovering over this corner of Southern Appalachia. In a seemingly “whack-a-mole” scenario, wildfires keep popping up or are combining at an alarming rate. And though officials are saying these blazes will soon be under control, one question lingers — when will they be extinguished?

The severe drought plaguing Western North Carolina has taken its toll on the local water supply, and residents are being asked to conserve what they can. 

Home to the Hancock family for generations, the hills and hollows along Silvermine Road are an ingrained identity for siblings Teresa Hancock, Christy Birchfield and Garry Hancock. But this year is the first in their decades of living that smoke has obscured the sky, ash has rained from the air, and flickers of flame have threatened the home that’s served as setting for memories across the seasons of life.

As of press time Nov. 15, Western North Carolina was ablaze with 22 wildfires burning through more than 50 square miles in the seven western counties, and while that’s significantly more than the 14 fires that were burning 17.5 square miles at press time last week, firefighters are feeling good about how the week has gone.

Western North Carolina continues to be in a severe drought as wildfires rage through the mountains. The lack of rain has also impacted wildlife, outdoor recreation and agriculture in the region.

• Data-driven analysis drives modern weather forecasting
• Low water levels cut the season short
• Wildlife rides out the drought

Billowing smoke and inundations of suited-up firefighters have become the norm for many areas in Western North Carolina over the past couple weeks as tinderbox conditions have lured flames across more than 11,000 acres — about 17.5 square miles — of forested land in the Nantahala National Forest and adjacent private property.

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