Investigators say Watauga County wildfire may have been set on purpose

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WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. -- Investigators are now saying the Horton Fire, a wildfire which has already burned through 700-800 acres near Blowing Rock, was possibly set on purpose.

“If we get lucky the wind will turn and blow into the fire, which of course will slow it down,” said David Shore, an aerial firefighter for the North Carolina Forest Service.

The source of the fire may prove to have been two different spots, near Sampson Road, which turned into the wildfire which has the potential to threaten 55 homes to the northeast of Blowing Rock.

“It could be a pretty tough fire,” said Jim Ruff, a Blowing Rock resident who grabbed his camera to take a time-lapse of the fire. “There’s a lot of wilderness over in that area.”

Firefighters have not been able to contain the fire. However, they are attempting to keep it within a “box,” comprised of fire lines. If the fire jumps those lines, it could grow to 1,000 acres in size.

“It is so dry right now,” Ruff said. “We need rain in the worst way. It worries me that this may spread quite a bit.”

Although there are 55 homes within the wildfire’s potential path, there are countless others which have been blanketed by its smoke.

“We’re a tight community. Most people know everyone,” said Danelle Cranor, who lives in the valley which has become a resting place for the smoke. “So, we all know someone who’s immediately affected.”

Cranor was already feeling the effects of smoke traveling to the area from other wildfires.

“I just went to the doctor,” she detailed. “She said it was just allergies from the smoke.”

Firefighters are using multiple tactics in their attempt to prevent the spread.

“Cutting down trees, running bulldozers, using rakes and leaf blowers,” said Shore, who spent his morning trying to spot the flames from the air.

“We did take the incident commander and a deputy commander up to do an aerial recon, they were able to get some information to relay back to the gentlemen on the ground,” he said.

However, the smoke made it nearly impossible to see the ground below.

“It was obstructing it pretty good,” Shore said. “It almost looked like we were approaching it at dusk.”

At this time, no structures have been damaged and no injuries have been reported; but with the wildfire at 20 percent containment, there is no timetable for the threat to be neutralized.

“It’s not good for the economy,” Ruff said. “But more importantly it’s bad for the environment and bad for the people that live in that area.”

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