Karen McKenzie, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service's Shoal Creek District, said that since Sunday, a wildfire has destroyed more than 150 acres of the Dugger Mountain Wilderness, which is near Red Mountain and the Rabbittown area. McKenzie said that as of this afternoon, the fire was still spreading but was not a threat to private property.
"The fire is going toward forested areas," McKenzie said. "There are some parcels of private property a few miles away, but nothing is being threatened at this point."
McKenzie said the cause of the wildfire is still under investigation.
Also, a section of the Pinhoti Trail that runs through the Dugger Mountain Wilderness has been closed until further notice. Wilderness is a special designation that adds an extra level of federal protection to forested areas.
"It is congressionally designated to be untouched by man," McKenzie said. "No motorized vehicles or roads are allowed ... you can hike in it and picnic, but it’s designed to be primitive."
McKenzie said that about 25 firefighters have tried to control the blaze since learning of the fire Sunday evening. She said the firefighters are digging lines of containment around the fire in combination with natural streams and trails to cut the fuel sources off for the blaze. However, the topography of the site and recent weather have made that difficult, she said.
"The area is pretty steep, rough terrain," McKenzie said. "And we've got a lot of wind, which is making it very difficult to fight the fire."
McKenzie said the Forest Service has called in backup from a 20-member firefighter team in New Mexico to assist with the wildfire. The crew will use bulldozers to construct additional containment lines, and will start small, controlled fires to burn natural sources of fuel to keep the wildfire from spreading.
McKenzie noted that because of this year’s high level of rainfall, the Talladega National Forest has not experienced many wildfires.
According to U.S. Forest Service statistics, 1,975 acres of the Talladega National Forest were destroyed by wildfires last year. McKenzie estimates about 500 acres of the forest have been destroyed by fire so far this year.
McKenzie also said the Shoal Creek District of the forest has a consistent controlled burning program to keep wildfires to a minimum.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.