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NC wildfire sends up smoke, 50 homes evacuate

COLUMBIA, N.C. (AP) ó Drifting smoke from a wildfire burning in a rural area of eastern North Carolina may affect driversí visibility as far as the northern Outer Banks, authorities said Wednesday.
The fire began with a lightning strike June 1 in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, about 40 miles from the Atlantic coast, and has burned across 40,195 acres, or about 63 square miles. Authorities responded by ordering the evacuation of some 50 homes in a Hyde County subdivision, an order still in effect Wednesday afternoon.
The evacuated homes are near a wheat field ready for harvesting, fire spokesman Dean McAlister said. He said Hyde County emergency management officials have asked the fieldís owner to harvest the wheat, plow under the stalks and burn any remaining debris to lessen the fire danger.
ěOur hope is that by the end of the burning period today, the residents will be able to return to their homes,î but local officials will make that decision, he said.
Authorities said the fire was 40 percent contained.
The National Weather Service said southwest to west winds at the Pocosin fire will push smoke toward U.S. Highways 64 and 264, two major routes for vacationers headed to the Outer Banks, as well as N.C. Highway 94.
McAlister said residents of Washington and Plymouth were likely to see smoke Wednesday, and the weather service said the smoke could travel as far as the Outer Banks, north of Rodanthe, about 50 miles away.
Meanwhile, as winds are forecast to shift, the state Division of Air Quality issued a health notice for Thursday for areas west of the fire, including Fayetteville and Raleigh because of fine particle pollution from the fire.
The division issued a Code Orange warning, meaning air quality is likely to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. In the case of fine particle pollution, those groups include people with heart conditions, who arenít included when the warning is issued for the more common warm weather problem of ozone.
Rain fell on the fire Tuesday but wasnít enough to help for more than 24 hours. It has cost almost $1.4 million to fight the fire, not including assistance from local and federal agencies.
Separately, a fire in the Virginia portion of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was creeping toward North Carolina. Refuge manager Chris Lowie told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., said a contractorís timbering equipment caught fire Monday afternoon. The fire began at about 30 acres and had grown to about 500 acres, he said.
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On the Net:
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/pocosinlakes/

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