As wildfire smoke heads toward Triad, evacuees give back to firefighters

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Forsyth County air quality officials tell FOX8 the Triad region will be under a Code Orange on Friday, with an Air Quality Index projected to be around 133. On average, our AQI for this time of year is about 40. While this may be the first time many of us feel the effects of the smoke coming from the wildfires to our west, people living closer to the fires have been dealing with them for several days.

“I was at home, my wife was in Hendersonville, they came back and said, ‘You got 30 minutes,’” said Danny Holland, who was evacuated as a result of the Party Rock Fire. “It was scary, we didn’t know what was going to happen of course.”

Holland and his wife are just two of the thousands of people who haven’t slept in their own beds as a result of the fires. On Thursday, he and a group of fellow evacuees spent hours putting together hundreds of sandwiches for the 850-some-odd firefighters and law enforcement officers assigned to the Party Rock Fire.

“Just volunteering and killing time, that’s all we can do,” Holland said. “They’ve done an outstanding job.”

Meanwhile, some shelters which once housed evacuees had to be evacuated themselves.

“They had to move us Tuesday because they were concerned about concerned about the shift in smoke,” said Eric Alston, a Greensboro native who moved to Chimney Rock about four years ago, who was originally housed at Bat Cave Baptist Church in Hendersonville.

Alston and other evacuees are now at Grace Lutheran Church in Hendersonville, aided by several Red Cross volunteers who are from the Triad as well.

“I’ve [had] to tell myself, I’m not the only one going through this,” Alston said. “There are so many.”

Firefighters are facing new challenges when it comes to battling the wildfires. Dried leaves which were once on trees have begun to fall onto areas where fires had been put out, rekindling them. Heightened wind speeds are expected to add to the spread of the fires in some areas, and instability has caused trees to fall on roads in some areas.

Many evacuees have not been told when they will be able to return home.

“It’s an adventure,” Holland said. “We just feel bad for our merchants downtown and our friends that have businesses in Chimney Rock.”

The Code Orange for the Triad region is expected to run from 12:00 a.m. Friday to 12:00 a.m. Saturday, with some heightened AQI levels to remain into the early morning hours on Saturday.