Life in the Mountains: Wildfires

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

It’s raining here today. That’s a very good thing. Not only do we need the moisture, but it does wonders for the air quality in our neighborhood right now. 

A forest fire started early yesterday on Stone Mountain: just over a mile from where I sit. The smoke in the air was noticeable here by mid-morning and got steadily worse. By early afternoon an easterly wind moved in and blew the smoke the other side of Piney Mountain down through Bat Harbor. When the wind died down yesterday evening, the smoke moved back in, in force. It was nasty.

The photo above is a shot of the fire taken Wednesday at dusk from the Lowe’s parking lot in Newport – probably about 8 miles away as the crow flies. Unless it’s a drunken crow; then that would be hard to judge. That shot is zoomed in a bit. The shot below is pulled back to show the smoke plume that is drifting along Piney Mountain: our home place.

We sealed our house windows yesterday to keep the smoke out. The gentle drizzly rain started around 4 a.m. and has dropped 4/10th inch so far – at 8 a.m. – which has done wonders toward dragging the smoke particles out of the air and making it far more breathable. It should help some in the firefighting efforts as well.

We are in no danger from this fire except for the annoyance of the smoke. The biggest danger presented – other than to a few homes in that area – is to a spot at the crest of Stone Mountain called Hall’s Top, which is the location of a major communications antenna array. If this gets taken out by the fire, it would put a major crimp in wireless communications – cell phones, internet, business and emergency vehicle radios, etc. – in this county.

In the photos above Hall’s Top is the high point just to the right of the fire. Since the winds are blowing the fire away from Hall’s Top, I expect it too will be OK.

Stone Mountain sits at 90 degrees just off the southern end of Piney Mountain. They are separated by a creek and a paved roadway. Just to the east of Stone Mountain is Hogback Mountain: it burned last year. Just north and east of Piney Mountain is Rocky Top (yes: THAT Rocky Top), which burned a few years ago. In between those times was a fire along the Foothills Parkway, which is more distant but visible from our front porch.

Wildfires are always a concern here because battling fires on the steep, heavily wooded, often unimproved (meaning few, if any, roads) faces of these mountains is a difficult task even for the experienced personnel of the Forestry Department. It is not at all like battling a fire in a city or even in a rural area of the flat-lands. Equipment cannot be driven in, the only water available would be any streams or creeks (often too small to be of any real use), and there is no quick way to get injured men out of a fire area. Even bringing in a bulldozer to create a fire break can be hazardous because of the danger of rolling it over on the steep, soft terrain. So most mountain firefighting is done on foot with chainsaws and shovels by men and women who must climb through the undergrowth up the steep slopes to the fire from the nearest road or pathway.

As residents of (or visitors to) these mountains, we need to be very careful with open fires, especially in the fall when the leaves are dry and highly flammable. Being caught in the middle of a wildfire will ruin your whole day.

Need Help? Call 1-866-803-7096