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BOONE — As the nation observes National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 4-10, Watauga County Forest Ranger Andrew Harsey said that good fire prevention is the key to not starting a wildfire.

With the increase in the number of residences in Watauga County, Harsey said the potential for wildfires also increases. The combination of steep slopes and homes located within wooded areas increases the risk of possible destruction of homes, natural resources and the death or serious injury to civilians and firefighters.

"The damages and cost incurred as the result of a wildfire can be very high," Harsey said. "Whether it was caused accidentally, negligently or intentionally, the losses are the same."

Individuals have found themselves responsible for the cost of suppressing a wildfire while others have found themselves responsible for damages caused to their property because of other landowner, Harsey said. Fines and court costs may also be imposed for accidentally or negligently causing a wildfire.

Since 2015, the North Carolina Forest Service and Watauga County firefighters have responded to 107 wildfire calls, burning a total of 1443 acres, according to Harsey. Of those calls, 46 percent (approximately 50 calls) required suppression action to control and contain the fire.

Listed below are the major causes of wildfires in Watauga County and recommended precautions:

1) Debris burning

  • Do not burn debris unless necessary
  • If you must burn, do so during summer months when vegetation is green
  • Avoid burning in March, April, October and November
  • Obtain a burning permit and do not leave a fire unattended
  • Have tools and water hose ready to control the fire and completely extinguish when finished

2) Stove ashes

  • Put ashes in metal bucket and drown with water

3) Children

  • Properly supervise children and teach them to not play with matches or lighters

4)Fireworks

  • Do not use fireworks in the woods and especially do not shoot rockets into the woods

5)Woods Arson

  • Form a community watch to observe unfamiliar individuals and vehicles
  • Report any information concerning arson to law enforcement officers

6)Campfire

  • Dig a pit and remove all forest litter within 10 feet surrounding the fire

As Smokey Bear says, “remember, only you can prevent wildfires”. Harsey thanked community members for their diligence in ensuring that Watauga County woodlands and homes remain safe. For more information, contact Harsey at (828) 265-5375 or andrew.harsey@ncagr.gov.

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