Fueled by dry and windy conditions, a fire that started off a popular trail at Pilot Mountain State Park on Saturday afternoon grew Monday to encompass hundreds of acres. The blaze forced campers to evacuate and the park to close for the foreseeable future.
The fire has consumed some 500 acres, meaning it doubled in size overnight. And a cold front bringing more wind to the area is likely to make firefighting efforts more difficult.
The park’s closure extends to all areas of the park, including the river section.
The knob, the park’s most distinctive feature, was shrouded in a veil of smoke on an otherwise clear morning. Several patches of smoke were visible on the long north-facing slope, indications that the fire had spread rapidly.
“Right now there’s pretty much fire all around the top of the mountain basically,” said Jimmy Holt, the Guilford County ranger for the N.C. Forest Service. “It’s dry, windy conditions. We haven’t had significant rainfall in several weeks so suppression is difficult.”
Holt said around 7 p.m., Sunday that the fire is still spreading.
About 30 firefighters from the forest service and the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation are on the scene at the fire. Crews from local fire departments responded to the initial call, which came in around 5 p.m., Saturday.
Those local crews are on standby to protect surrounding structures, Holt said.
Nearby landowners have not been evacuated and are not in harm’s way, Holt said.
Gov. Roy Cooper said in a tweet that he appreciated the work of firefighters and others who are working to keep people safe.
Though the fire has not been contained, it is confined to state-owned property.
“We plan on holding the fire to the mountain,” Holt said.
Prescribed burns at the state park over the years will help firefighters suppress the fire, Holt said.
In addition, the base of the mountain has a fire line that was established in 2012 when a wildfire burned nearly 800 acres. That fire started as a prescribed burn.
Madison Abbott, who lives in Pilot Mountain, said she learned about the fire through social media. Around 9 p.m., the “sky was bright red” and the smell of smoke was strong, she said.
She and a few friends drove to Pinnacle View Baptist Church where they got a good view of the fire.
Through binoculars, Abbott said she could see flames climbing trees and quickly spreading.
“From far away, it looked slow moving but up close, you could definitely see it spreading,” she said.
On Sunday morning, lots of people were out taking pictures of the smoky knob. The stench of smoke was strong around the towns of Pinnacle and Pilot Mountain, drifting onto U.S. 52. A scout plane occasionally buzzed overhead.
Against the backdrop of the burning mountain, several people, with Bibles in hand, walked into services at Friendly Chapel Church in the town of Pilot Mountain.
Firefighters have been taking steps to protect structures within the park, including the $4 million visitors center that opened in 2020.
Holt said crews are building containment lines around the structures and removing flammable debris.
He encouraged local landowners to avoid burning anything until the fire is out.
There is little chance for rain in the 10-day forecast, noted Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan J. Cockerham in a Facebook post.
“Our fire department could use your donations of bottled water, snacks, Gatorade, and other items like that to stay hydrated and on the job,” Cockerham said. ”You can drop them off at the fire station (Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department) on Key Street. Our firefighters are working to provide water for the aerial response right now.”
The fire comes almost two weeks after a wildfire started by an abandoned campfire burned more than 40 acres at nearby Sauratown Mountain in southwestern Stokes County.