ROCKINGHAM — Forest rangers have had their hands full with a streak of wildfires over the past month.
From July 11-30, there were 22 reports of fires in Richmond County and there have been 18 within the past week, according to Matt Gordon with the N.C. Forest Service.
“We hit record fuel moisture levels (sticks, pine straw laying on the forest floor) never seen before,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Although officially the county is listed as being in a moderate drought, Gordon said he “would put us in a severe drought.”
Richmond and Scotland counties have been the two most active areas for wildfires this summer because of the hot and dry conditions.
“If we do get any rain, it sucks it up like a diaper and doesn’t do any good for us,” said Gordon. “We need a good four days of steady, soaking rain.”
On a drought index scale of 0-800 — the latter being the driest — Richmond County is at 725.
“A lot of these fires are caused by people being careless, burning outside,” he said. “They need to be very, very careful and stay with it until it’s out.”
Gordon added that there have been four or five structure fires — no homes, just outbuildings — as a result of the ground fires.
“We’ve had some fairly large fires in the (Sandhills) Game Lands, also,” he said, including a 700-acre fire on the Richmond-Scotland county line near Camp Mackall. “It’s just so dry right now, anything can spark one, and then it’s off to the races.”
Gordon said another fire, on Special Forces Way, had been burning since June 25. He said the ground was still so hot it was catching falling pine needles on fire.
“It’s just constantly burning,” he said. “Hopefully it’s taken care of now.”
While there are no burning bans currently in place, Gordon said that could happen if the county doesn’t receive a decent dousing of rain.
Rangers are constantly checking on a lot of the recent fires which are still smoldering, like the one that flared up Tuesday off Hamer Mill Road.
At that fire, rangers used a bulldozer to dig a containment line to keep the fire from spreading deeper into the woods. Ranger Chris McGee walked behind along the line setting a backfire.
A backfire competes for the same pocket of oxygen with the original fire and the two burn toward each other away from the containment line until they both burn out.
“It’s not going to go out until we get rain,” he said.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.