HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (WSPA/WNCN) — North Carolina officials announced Monday the state’s price gouging law was in force as a wildfire in Henderson County nearly doubled in size from Sunday.
A Code Red air quality alert was also issued by state officials because of wildfire smoke in at least five counties.
The price gouging law went into place after Henderson County declared a state of emergency with fire crews battling a brush wildfire that’s now estimated to be over 431 acres — up from 250 acres Sunday and just eight acres Friday afternoon.
Crews said as of Monday night that only 5% of the wildfire near Edneyville is contained, despite firefighters working overnight and through the weekend.
“I am thinking of our western North Carolina communities as they face devastating wildfires and appreciate our first responders for all they are doing to control the situation,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a news release about the price gouging law. “During this time, if you see price gouging, please report it to my office so we can ensure that people aren’t paying too much for the items they need to recover.”
They’re predicting that it could take them another two to three weeks before the blaze — which is visible from Hendersonville — is completely contained or extinguished.
“We’ve had about 20 different departments arrive outside of our surrounding, local counties and we are having more that are on their way in right now,” said Robert Griffin, fire chief at Edneyville Fire Department.
There are no injuries but the North Carolina Forest Service said two homes have been destroyed, and one has been badly damaged. More than 30 homes had to be evacuated over the weekend.
“It’s sad that we’re seeing some loss of structures but thank god no loss of life or anything like that, you can rebuild a house but you can’t rebuild a life so thank goodness we’ve been lucky there,” said Mike Morgan, chief communications officer for Henderson County.
An investigation into the cause has not been completed yet, but crews on the scene said homeowners on Poplar Drive were burning items about a week before the start of the brush fire. Due to the dry conditions, some of the remains from that fire could have ignited and spread.
Since then, it’s turned into something many of the newer firefighters have never seen before.
“When it’s burning 12 inches deep, a lot of them have not faced fires like that until now because it’s not something you deal with all the time,” said Griffin.
A state of emergency has been issued for the county and as the fire continues, that’s what they said can help them with resources moving forward.
“We want to have every resource that we can get available to help fight this thing and by declaring a state of emergency that opens up so many channels again to state and federal help if we need it,” said Morgan.
Two other fires continue to burn in the North Carolina mountains — with a new one that began over the weekend.
A new 125-acre fire popped up over the weekend called the East Fork Fire in Jackson County in the Nantahala Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest within the Savannah Fire District.
Also — the largest fire — a two-week-old lightning-induced blaze continues to grow in Cherokee County near Andrews. That wildfire started on Oct. 23 and has grown to more than 2,150 acres, but is not threatening structures, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Henderson County officials have issued a burn ban on all open burning in the area, and have canceled all burning permits for the county until further notice. Burn bans have also been issued in 14 counties — most of them in the North Carolina mountains.
In addition to the fires, the smoke has impacted air quality with Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties experiencing Code Red air quality conditions, defined as air that is unhealthy for anyone to breathe, North Carolina officials said.
“Residents should consider limiting prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors in these areas. Anyone sensitive to air pollution, including children, older adults and people with asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion,” The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality said in a news release.
Graham and Henderson counties and the southern mountain ridgetops in this area are forecast to have Code Orange air quality, which is unhealthy to groups sensitive to air pollution.
North Carolina officials issued the Air Quality Action Day alerts in response to ongoing wildfire activity in the area that began late last week. The Collet Ridge wildfire in Cherokee County and its smoke plume remain visible in satellite imagery. The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County may also be causing smoke impacts in the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report