UPDATE: Just before 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, a Champion Fire Department firefighter told the Wilkes Communications Center that U.S. 421 had been reopened to traffic in both directions on the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment in far western Wilkes. The highway was closed at about 10:30 p.m. due to downed power lines.
Late Wednesday night, fire departments and other agencies were dealing with multiple grass and woods fires and downed power lines related to strong wind.
A little after 10:30 p.m., the Champion Fire Department reported that power lines were down across all lanes of U.S. 421 West 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 County. There appeared to be downed lines elsewhere on U.S. 421 mountain.
A Champion firefighter 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 requested that Blue Ridge Energy be contacted because the lines belong to that cooperative.
At 10:50 p.m., a Wilkes Communications Center dispatcher confirmed that U.S. 421 had been closed to traffic in both directions on the mountain due to downed power lines, as well as power poles.
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.
Woods, grass fres
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 at about 10:30 p.m. that the fire appeared to have burned about five to six acres and was caused by downed power lines. Multiple fire departments were fighting the blaze at that point.
At 11:30 p.m., Crouse said the fire off Timber Ridge Lane was still being fought. He said two hunting cabins were immediately threatened and two or three other homes were threatened less severely. Crouse said the Wilbar, Millers Creek, Cricket and Mulberry-Fairplains fire departments were on the scene.
Crouse said the fire off Timber Ridge Lane was completely contained by 1 a.m. Thursday.
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. A Wilkesboro firefighter arriving on the scene told the communications center that the grass fire appeared to be about an acre in size. The forest service and other fire departments were dispatched to assist Wilkesboro. Firefighters cleared the scene of the grass fire at 10:50 p.m.
Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jason Smithey said later Wednesday night that there actually were three grass fires in close proximity to each other 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 hasn't been determined. He said the Goshen and Millers Creek fire departments assisted Wilkesboro with a brush truck, tankers and manpower.
The Cricket Fire Department was dispatched to a woods fire off Friendship Cross Street, off Boone Trail near the North Wilkesboro town limits, at 10:27 p.m. The person who reported the fire said it was threatening a house. Other departments and the forest service assisted. Firefighters cleared that scene around 11 p.m.
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.