The Compass Pointe fire in Brunswick County has forced nearly a 100 households to evacuate as the fire spread to 500 hundred acres in southern North Carolina.
Here’s a few facts about the blaze, from the North Carolina Forest Service:
— Fire is contained at 500 acres. It spread from 15 acres at initial attack.
— 89 homes threatened and evacuated. The Compass Pointe subdivision, off U.S. Route 74 and and U.S. Route 76 was emptied. Residents were allowed back in by 6 p.m. on Monday, a local TV news station reported.
–5 homes damaged. 1 outbuilding lost, 1 boat damaged and 1 pull-behind trailer lost.
— 8 tractor plows, two helicopters and 3 SEATs responded.
Access to the fire, which is burning in the southern tip of the state, proved tricky for crews. Trains going through the area had to be stopped, and fire crews had to work around tracks and pipelines transporting flammable gasses. The fire threatened a local water treatment plant, and sent embers into flower beds, onto roofs and across many roads.
The fire’s cause remains unknown, said county Fire Marshal Scott Garner. There were no prescribed burns in the area.
Officials said a woods fire in Franklin, North Carolina, is now contained.
Michael Wilkins, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said the fire started around 2 p.m. Thursday and burned about 85 acres of land off Highway 64 on Corundum Hill Road in the Cullosaja Gorge Community.
Wilkins said the high winds, low humidity and steep, rocky country presented some challenges. He said 15 or 20 homes are in the area, but the fire burned around them and has not caused any damage to the homes. Homeowners evacuated on their own and are in a safe location.
The North Carolina Forest Service leads the joint effort to fight the woods fire, with the U.S. Forest Service, Macon County Fire Service, Macon County Emergency Management and local fire departments assisting, officials said. The Cullasaja Gorge Fire and Rescue department was the main fire department on scene, but others also helped.
Cullasaja Gorge Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Corbin said about 100 total personnel and about 20 trucks responded to the scene.
Law enforcement officers with the North Carolina Forest Service (NCFS) were named the 2014 Investigative Team of the Year by the North Carolina Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators at the North Carolina/South Carolina Arson Conference in Myrtle Beach. The event was attended by more than 360 fire investigators, fire marshals and detectives from both states.
The honor was bestowed upon NCFS Law Enforcement Supervisor Amery Wells, Law Enforcement Rockingham District Ranger Sam Niemyer and other members of the team for an investigation that took place between July 2011 and May 2012. During that period, 78 fires were intentionally set in Scotland, Richmond and Hoke counties. The team used a combination of strategies to narrow down the case to a single suspect who would later be charged and convicted on 50 felony counts of setting fires and malicious use of incendiary devices.
Robert Smith, NCFS chief of law enforcement, said the investigation was challenging and unique due to the geographic area that covered portions of three counties, eight fire districts and two prosecutorial districts, among other factors. He pointed out that investigating a series of fires, even if a few are in the same general area, is complicated.
“Effective communications between investigative team members and numerous resources from different counties and fire districts was critical to the success of this investigation,” Smith said.
Smith said developing the working relationships and overall trust between all of those parties was essential. He credited the team with doing an outstanding job to develop and nurture longstanding relationships that transcended jurisdictional lines and using their individual strengths and skills to work extremely well together.
“They used a combination of good old-fashioned investigative skills mixed with technology such as tracking devices and GIS mapping, to put together a thorough case,” he said.
The factor of time and distance repeatedly challenged investigators to develop new strategies for static and mobile surveillance that covered a large geographic area over a lengthy time span. It was, however, a challenge to get the legal authority to use the tracking device. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in U.S. vs. Jones that required a search warrant for tracking devices. In May 2012, judges were still new to this case, as was the investigative team, making the warrant process more time-consuming than normal. The team collaborated on proper verbiage and content prior to discussing the case with the signing judge to be sure everything was in proper order and to the letter of the law.
The team also had the daunting task of collecting and analyzing a large volume of data, evidence, leads, witness interviews, photographs and other information, which quickly became a huge undertaking to sort and track. There was also the ongoing process of analyzing the data to formulate hypotheses, which was even more challenging and often frustrating for the team.
The suspect turned out to be a former law enforcement officer. As such, he was familiar with investigative tactics, interview techniques and surveillance techniques. It was later determined that he was also using a scanner to monitor radio traffic of emergency response personnel.
“Considering all of the challenges, the investigative team maintained a unified and determined effort to bring successful closure to one of the most complex wildland fire investigation cases in North Carolina history,” Smith said.
The team invested more than 1,000 man hours of time and resources and wrote in excess of 1,000 pages of discovery evidence. Their work led to 52 felony charges for intentionally setting fires and use of malicious incendiary devices, and a $1 million dollar bond set for the suspect, the largest in North Carolina for a wildland fire case. The suspect pleaded guilty in November 2013 to 50 of the 52 felony charges and was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to 60 months of supervised probation to begin in May 2016 at the end of an unrelated federal prison sentence.
“I’m very proud to have played just a small role in this investigation. But even more so, to have witnessed the amount of dedication, professionalism and teamwork these guys demonstrated throughout this entire investigation,” Smith said. “They are all very deserving of this award for 2014.”
Morrison’s family will receive visitors at Holloman-Brown Funeral Home, Great Bridge Chapel, located at 524 Cedar Road in Chesapeake on Saturday, March 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A memorial service will be held Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m. at the Knotts Island Fire Department located at 327 Knotts Island Road.
Scott Morrison, Chief of the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department that serves areas in both North Carolina and Virginia died in the line of duty Sunday afternoon while working on a brush fire, collapsing into respiratory and cardiac arrest at the scene. Randall Edwards, public information officer for Currituck Co., said the Chief was treated at the scene by Currituck EMS and also while en route to a hospital in Virginia.
According to his Facebook page, Chief Morrison became a firefighter in 1984 and worked his way up through the ranks. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
We offer our sincere condolences to Chief Morrison’s family and his fellow members of the fire department.
Firefighters in North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain State Park hope to have an escaped prescribed fire 90 percent contained by the end of the day on Monday. On Thursday the burn boss and New River State Park Superintendent Joseph Shimel supervised the ignition of the fire intending to burn 180 acres, but in the afternoon a dead tree near the fireline torched, sending burning embers into steep terrain outside the project’s perimeter, eventually blackening about 800 acres over the weekend.
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Charlie Peek, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation said the escaped fire:
…pretty much illustrated why we need prescribed burns, because any time fire hits this area — leaf litter, debris and brush — it’s much more difficult to control, and things can get out of hand much more quickly.
Previously the largest prescribed fire in the Park had been 35 acres. Small burns had been conducted in 2004 and 2009.