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.
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.
The all-important push to bring high-speed internet to Western North Carolina generated a lot of optimism earlier this summer when the town of Waynesville and the Land of Sky Regional Council entered into an agreement with the goal of expanding high-speed internet service to the area.
Geography and population conspire to make much of Western North Carolina a terrible place for an airport; west of Asheville, commercial airstrips are practically nonexistent.
Allen Alsbrooks serves on the Maggie Valley Zoning Board, and used to serve on the town’s planning board; he’s also been the owner of the Hearth and Home Inn on Soco Road in Maggie Valley since 2007, so it’s safe to say he’s got his finger pretty close to the pulse of Haywood County’s tourism-based economy.
“It’s the best year I’ve ever had,” Alsbrooks said.
It’s a great time to be a Libertarian, according to Brian Irving, the party’s North Carolina chairman.
Cloud cover keeps the summer morning cool as Mark Hopey makes the rounds below Cowee Mound. By 8:30 a.m., he and his two wildlife technicians have already been working at the Franklin-area site for nearly three hours, making hay while the sun doesn’t shine — or at least doesn’t shine with the heat it will gather soon.
Hopey glances down a small trail leading to a net — higher than his head, wide as a volleyball net and strung with fine black netting — before walking on past. No birds there, but he’ll inspect it closer on the way back, just to make sure.