Ashe County wildfire expected to reach 400 acres by Monday night

ASHE COUNTY, N.C. -- As wildfires continue to burn in western North Carolina, a new one has popped up in Ashe County, threatening multiple homes, structures and businesses.

“Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, we’re just strapped to the max,” said Tim Lewis, Ashe County Ranger for the North Carolina Forest Service.

Lewis said the wildfire started as a result of a structure fire, which started around 10:00 Sunday morning and spread to the woods as firefighters tried to get it under control, then took off up the mountain. 100 acres burned within about four hours.

“It’s going to be tough because we’ve got a lot of structures on the inside that have to be protected,” Lewis said, of efforts to control the fire.

Approximately 24 homes are inside the fire perimeter, as well as 14 structures.

“It looked like from a stove, not very big, about 30 minutes later the whole mountain was covered in smoke,” said Brooke Sturgill, whose home is one of those threatened.

Sturgill is also a co-owner of Mile High Tree Farm, a business which provides thousands of Christmas trees every year, which is also within that perimeter.

“If the fire got down here we could lose everything,” she said. “That would be, I mean, you can’t regrow a tree and send them out.”

Mile High Tree Farm has lots in Winston-Salem, Greenville and Maryland; but they ship trees as far as Russia.

“This is our money making season and a lot relies on this,” Sturgill said.

While FOX8 was watching the trees being loaded up, smoke was traveling from the mountainside and directly toward the workers.

“They’re having to wear masks to cover up their face because it’s getting so hard to breathe, especially in that enclosed trailer,” Sturgill said.

The fire was predominantly fought by volunteer and local firefighters for the first 24 hours, before being relieved to standby for more fires which could pop up.

“Any time you have low humidity and high winds you’re going to have erratic fire behavior and spotting,” Lewis said.

Lewis added that this is the worst wildfire he has dealt with in Ashe County in about 15 years. This fire, like those to the west, has the potential to burn for months to come.

“It’s going to be dry weather and this could be going on through March,” Lewis said.

The Forest Service predicts that, by Monday night, as many as 450 acres could burn as a result of this wildfire.