Ranger: Campfire caused Sampson blaze
by Anna Oakes
A N.C. Forest Service ranger said on Tuesday that a campfire was to blame for a forest fire that burned 150 acres in the Sampson area over the weekend.
Barry "Tater" Maines, a custom ranger for the N.C. Forest Service District 2 office in Lenoir, said to "the best of my knowledge" it was determined that a vehicle either wrecked or got stuck near Penley Road late Friday night or early Saturday morning and that the passengers built a campfire to stay warm.
"The campfire got away from them," Maines said.
N.C. Forest Service Ranger Stuart Scott of the Watauga County station said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The fire was located in the area of Paisley Ridge Road, Rock House Road and Penley Road in Sampson, which is located in the southeast corner of Watauga County.
The N.C. Forest Service, State Highway Patrol and eight local fire departments -- Stewart Simmons, Blowing Rock, Boone, Beaver Dam, Cove Creek, Foscoe, Deep Gap and Ferguson -- battled the fire from early Saturday morning until the blaze was declared "100 percent extinguished" around 3 p.m. Monday, Scott said.
"Today there may be some smoldering tree stumps, but they're all located well within the perimeter of the fire and there should not be any cause for concern," he said Tuesday.
Using a bulldozer, crews created containment lines around several camping trailers, and with a little help from a favorable wind direction and the rain on Monday, no structures were burned.
"All of those efforts were successful," Scott said. "We didn't have any damage to any structures or outbuildings."
Scott estimated that upwards of 80 firefighters worked the fire over three days, and equipment used to assist line-digging crews included a helicopter, a bulldozer, brush trucks and tanker trucks.
In addition, the Watauga County Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Watauga Rescue Squad provided meals to fire crews throughout the duration of the fire.
Kay Sigmon lives on Rock House Road and said her home was less than a mile away from the fire.
"I smelled the smoke and it was on the hill above me, right behind my house," Sigmon said. "It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger."
Sigmon praised the firefighters' efforts in containing the fire.
"It was incredible. The helicopter would come over to my house with that big bucket," she said. "They did an excellent job at maintaining safety for the people that lived in the neighborhood. I just can't praise them enough."
On Saturday, estimates of the fire's acreage ranged from 75 acres to more than 100.
"We had the Forest Service scout plane fly over on Sunday, and he mapped it at about 150 acres total," said Scott.
No N.C. Forest Service burning ban was in place at the time of the fire nor was one in place as of Tuesday. Scott said the Forest Service was "on a higher readiness plan."
Earlier last week, the U.S. Forest Service issued an alert warning of "dry forest conditions" and urging the public to be extra careful when starting campfires or burning debris near forests. On Nov. 5, a fire started by a homeowner burning trash burned three acres in Deep Gap.
Watauga County Fire Marshal Steve Sudderth said the county can institute bans on burning within 50 feet of a structure in accordance with the N.C. Fire Prevention Code.
"We usually try to keep in
step with the N.C. Forest Service," Sudderth said.