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700 acres scorched as 2 wildfires burn in Swain County from trees falling on power lines

By Hannah Mackenzie

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    SWAIN COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — A spokesperson with the North Carolina Forest Service said Sunday, March 27 that firefighters are making significant headway on two wildfires burning since Saturday afternoon in Swain County.

The smell of smoke was thick in the air near Bryson City on Sunday. According to District 9 Forester Ruthie Edwards, the Thomas Divide Complex Fire is comprised of two separate wildfires: the Stone Pile Fire and the Cooper Creek Fire. She said both were caused by fallen trees on power lines.

“That type of fire is very common when we have high winds,” Edwards said.

Saturday night, the fires had burned an estimated 100 acres and were 10% contained.

By Sunday night, the fires reached a combined total of 700 acres and were 30% contained. Despite windy conditions, Edwards said they are not expected to grow.

“We have definitely turned the corner on containing the fire,” Edwards said. “I think that we look to see a lot of improvement [Sunday night] with the relative humidity rising.” According to Edwards, no one has been injured and there has been only one report of minor damage to a home. Evacuation orders issued on Saturday have since been lifted.

Swain County residents Don Parks and Cora Fuller were forced to leave their house after fire crews came knocking.

“They said we needed to get out of there,” Parks recalled.

Fuller said it was her nose that first alerted her to the fire.

“I smelled smoke and I thought, ‘Oh my Lord.’ I went outside and the whole mountainside was just white, and I could see orange and pink color coming up,” Fuller said. “You couldn’t hardly see anything and, man, I was terrified.”

Fuller and Parks loaded their dogs Tootsie, Ash and Scruffy into their truck and headed to a family member’s house. Parks said his anxiety was through the roof on the drive back Sunday morning.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Parks said. “So, it was great to see it in one piece.”

Relieved, the couple said they’re eager to get a good night’s sleep.

“I’m ready to go home and crash out,” Fuller said with a smile.

On Sunday afternoon, 60 firefighters continued to battle the flames, said Edwards.

“This is just old fashioned hard work,” Edwards said. “They’re all just digging hand line, and it can be slow and tedious — and it’s steep and hard work.”

Attempts to bring in additional resources were blocked over the weekend by mother nature, she added.

“We had a scout plane and a helicopter come over from the North Carolina Forest Service, and both came here and tried to do some work, but the winds were too strong,” Edwards said. “We weren’t able to use them.”

According to Edwards, they will attempt to operate with a skeleton crew overnight to give firefighters a rest before tackling the flames again Monday morning.

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