Monday numbers: NC’s widespread drought and the anniversary of an unforgettable fire

Monday numbers: NC’s widespread drought and the anniversary of an unforgettable fire

- in Environment, Top Story
For roughly three weeks in November 2016, the Chestnut Knob fire burned more than 6,400 acres near Morganton. (Photo: NC Forest Service)

The drought map looks ominous. In spots, western North Carolina is as dry — or drier — than the same areas during the record-breaking drought of 2016.

It was that year on Nov. 6, when the Chestnut Knob fire ignited in Burke County — then, as now, experiencing a moderate drought — burning more than 6,400 acres over three weeks.

The fall fire season has arrived, and not just in California, where wind-whipped blazes have forced the state’s utility to cut power to more than two million people and tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated.

Current drought conditions
Drought conditions Oct. 25, 2016

Based on 10 years of data, North Carolina has recorded a slightly above-average fire year, according to NC Forest Service, which tracks wildfire occurrences. (The figures are an estimates and don’t include uncontained fires or fires that occur on federal property.) On 20 of 23 days this month, there has been a wildfire somewhere in the state.

Don’t blame lightning: It has caused only about two percent of all fires in North Carolina since 1970. And don’t point fingers at kids, either. Children are responsible for just seven percent of the blazes. Adults who burn debris — trash, construction material and other detritus, have started more than a third of the fires.

315 — Wildfires statewide, Oct. 1-23

507 — Acres burned, Oct. 1-23

3,364 — Wildfires statewide, year to date

8,706 — Acres burned, year to date

728,947  — Acres burned in 1941, the highest number since recordkeeping began in 1928

77,741 — Acres burned in 2016, highest number in 21st century

38 — Percentage of all fires caused by debris burning*

7 — Caused by children

2 — By lightning

41,545 — Acres burned during the Evans Road peat fire, Pocosin Lakes NWR, 2008

3 — Months the Evans Road fire burned

200 — Distance, in miles, inland that the smoke traveled

5 — Estimated percentage of US annual carbon emissions produced by Evans Road fire

*Since 1970
Sources: NC Forest Service, EPA