The Transylvania Times -

By Matt McGregor
Staff Writer 

Drought Makes Fires A Big Concern


November 10, 2016

Transylvania County remains in exceptional drought conditions, or D3, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

The drought is not affecting water levels and recreation as much as it is harming agricultural production and contributing to fire outbreaks.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture issued a burning ban that went into effect on Monday, Nov. 7, to help prevent more fires.

Transylvania County’s Forest Ranger Frank Rogers said the ban prohibits all outside burning except for outdoor cookers.

“If somebody is caught burning anything outside, it’s a $100 dollar fine, plus court costs, which would come out to be around $280,” Rogers said.

Rogers said in the last two weeks there have been eight fires in Transylvania County.

“The largest one was 3.3 acres,” Rogers said. “The most recent one was a half-acre, and we didn’t get it out until Monday.”

Rogers said the NC Forest Service and the local fire departments are overworked.

“We are getting run to death fighting these fires,” Rogers said.

He said just this week fires have broken out in McDowell, Polk and Buncombe counties, and there are five major fires in the Nantahala Forest.

Bart Renner, the local county extension director, said it’s unusual for the rainforest climate of Transylvania County to be experiencing this level fire danger drought.

“No one really needs to be burning anything outside at all,” Renner said.

He said it’s not just fire but hay production and livestock that are being affected.

“This is a big problem,” Renner said. ”Livestock producers are going to have to have to deal with crops taking up an excessive amount of nitrate during drought times.”

Renner said not only is there less hay production during drought, the hay and pasture grasses pick up excessive nitrate from the soil, which can be poisonous to the animals because the nitrate is not diluted by water.

He said the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is offering hay testing for nitrate levels and overall quality, and that if anyone is interested, to call the NC State Extension office.

In addition to the nitrate levels, there is the problem of minimal hay yield.

“The concern is going to be whether or not we can get a good spring crop of hay, because people put that up after they harvest in the fall and put it up hoping to feed their animals throughout the winter,” Renner said. “Usually about this time, it’s a productive time for the pasture, but people are already having to feed the winter supply of hay to the livestock.”

Curtis Weaver, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Raleigh, said water levels through the Rosman part of the French Broad River and the Davidson River continue a low-level discharge.

“The Davidson River near Brevard’s current flow is at 29 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the French Broad River is at about 55 cfs,” Weaver said.

He said the Davidson River’s median flow is at 56 cfs, and the French Broad River’s median flow is at 120 to 130 cfs.

Using ground water measurements to determine water levels in Transylvania County, Weaver said levels are at two-tenths of a foot above the record low for November.

Dennis Richardson, chief operator at the city of Brevard’s Cathey’s Creek Water Treatment Facility, said, despite the drought, water supply remains stable.

“At the moment we are doing OK,” Richardson said. “We have not reached the point to implement any water restrictions.”

Jessica Whitmire, operations and marketing manager at Headwaters Outfitters, said the river level is too low for their usual float trips this time of year, but the drought hasn’t stopped fly-fishing.

“You have to change your strategy and move around, but there is still great fishing,” Whitmire said. “We are lucky in that we have a mild climate.”

Whitmire said the real danger in the drought is with fires.

She said she is still seeing people tossing cigarettes out of their window and she said she’s driven by two brush fires this week.

“I don’t think people realize how serious this is right now,” Whitmire said. “People aren’t used to it being this dry in Transylvania County.”

For information on hay testing and options, call the NC State Extension office at (828)884-3109.


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