Wilkes County fire departments and other agencies were busy with fires and downed power lines related to strong wind Wednesday night.
Gusts up to around 50 mph were reported at higher elevations of Wilkes.
A little after 10:30 p.m., the Champion Fire Department reported downed power lines across all lanes of U.S. 421 about a mile west of the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment and immediately west of the lower runaway truck sand pile in western Wilkes.
Champion Fire Chief Craig Hollar advised the Wilkes Communications Center that U.S. 421 needed to be closed to traffic in both directions due to the downed lines. He also asked that Blue Ridge Energy be contacted about repairing their lines.
U.S. 421 West was closed in both directions on the mountain from about 10:30-11:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the Deep Gap Fire Department blocking traffic at the top of the mountain and the N.C. Highway Patrol at the bottom.
Hollar said winds strong enough to make it difficult to stand blew down a pine tree, bringing a power line onto U.S. 421 with it. He said it appeared that a vehicle snagged and pulled the downed line, causing a utility pole on the other side of the highway to snap and bring down six power lines.
Fire departments were dispatched to downed lines at numerous locations elsewhere in Wilkes Wednesday night, but especially at higher elevations of western and northern Wilkes.
Fortunately, said Hollar, a Blue Ridge Energy crew rapidly cleared the highway for travel.
Woods, grass fires
At about 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Wilbar Fire Department and the N.C. Forest Service were dispatched to a forest fire off Timber Ridge Lane, which is off Old N.C. 16 in northern Wilkes.
Michael Crouse, assistant county ranger with the N.C. Forest Service, said the fire appeared to have burned about five to six acres and was caused by downed power lines.
Crouse said two hunting cabins were immediately threatened and two or three other homes were threatened less severely. The Wilbar, Millers Creek, Cricket and Mulberry-Fairplains fire departments were on the scene.
He said the fire was completely contained by 1 a.m. Thursday by firefighters who cleared control lines with hand tools on very steep and rocky terrain. Crouse said the ground was saturated from recent rain. He said this made it harder for firefighters to maneuver, but it also helped them by reducing the fire’s intensity.
The Wilkesboro Fire Department was dispatched to a grass fire near the intersection of U.S. 421 West and N.C. 16 North in Wilkesboro about 9:30 p.m.
Firefighters cleared the scene of the grass fire at 10:50 p.m.
Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jason Smithey said it actually was three grass fires about 500 feet apart that burned a total of about half an acre. He said they likely originated from a single fire that was spread by wind, but the cause of the initial fire wasn’t determined.
Smithey said the fire, between Congo Road and where N.C. intersects with U.S. 421, didn’t threaten any structures. Goshen and Millers Creek fire departments assisted Wilkesboro with a brush truck, tankers and manpower.
The Cricket Fire Department was dispatched to a brush fire off Friendship Cross Street, which is off Boone Trail near the North Wilkesboro town limits, at 10:27 p.m. The person who reported the fire said it threatened a house. Other departments and the forest service assisted. Firefighters cleared that scene around 11 p.m.
The Glendale Springs Fire Department assisted Wilbar by responding to downed power lines on Benge-Ashe Road in far northern Wilkes.
At 11:20 p.m. Wednesday, Blue Ridge Energy’s website showed that 496 of the cooperative’s 2,337 customers in Wilkes were without electricity. These were all in far western Wilkes. Blue Ridge Energy outages in other counties then included 379 in Caldwell, 320 in Watauga, 116 in Ashe and 56 in Alleghany.
At 3 a.m. Thursday, 2,529 Blue Ridge Energy customers were without power.
Line technicians battled damaging winds and frigid conditions while working to restore outages, which mostly resulted from trees outside of right-of-way areas toppled by high winds.
The storm damaged 47 locations in Wilkes and Ashe counties, primarily in the Obids, Timber Ridge, Shatley Springs and N.C. 16 areas.