Saturday, July 19, 2008

French Broad Crossing Wildfire

In the summer of 2007 wildfires swept mountain slopes of southern California. This scarred environment was now primed for the next natural disaster. "When rain follows the fire this closely, there's no vegetation to stop or absorb it," said Jim Whittington, a fire spokesman at Lake Isabella as reported by the San Jose Mercury News. On July 12, 2008 the rains came to this blackened landscape and the mud flowed. Rivers of ash and mud covered homes and roads in the distant communities of Lake Isabella and Independence.

Western North Carolina's natural hazard topography is much like that of southern California: steep landslide active terrain stayed only by native vegetation. These mountainsides are in equilibrium, it only takes rain on barren slopes to bring them down.

Developers are building thousands of mountain slope communities in this hazardous region of the North Carolina and they are currently allowed to hide these significant risks from their clients.

In April a wildfire burned more than 200 acres in the French Broad Crossing development. The mountain slopes in this project have been severely destabilized by this natural hazard event. Will the developer, The Preserve Communities, disclose these material facts to their prospective clients? A visit to their website does not mention the spring wildfire.

The following is a description of the French Broad Crossing wildfire.

On April 18, 2008 Jonathan Austin, Editor of the News Record and Sentinel reported the following:
A wildfire in the Walnut area of Madison County spread rapidly due to high winds and dry conditions Friday afternoon. The fire began along the French Broad River north of Marshall and roared up a mountainside under development as a low-density gated community.

Every fire department in Madison County was dispatched to the blaze, which officials say began to smolder near the railroad tracks that parallel the river.

Within two hours, Walnut Volunteer Fire Department sought help from firefighters from the entire county and two departments in Buncombe, as well as wild fire teams from the N. C. Forest Service. A Forest Service helicopter repeatedly dumped water on the blaze, which it picked up in the nearby river.

By nightfall, the blaze had scorched more than 200 acres of woodland. By midnight, firefighters had the blaze under control and crews were set to stay on the mountain throughout the night.

The development, French Broad Crossing, is located on hundreds of acres stretching from 25/70 to the French Broad River near the community of Walnut. The development is designed as a low-density development, with hundreds of acres managed by the Smoky Mountain National Land Trust.

That steep land was scorched Friday as the flames roared uphill, driven by 30-plus mile-per-hour winds.

At points, forest service vehicles were in danger of burning as the flames leapt roads and fed on dry pines and debris in the forest. Firefighters repeatedly warned of the risk of the roaring walls of flame.

The development has several established community buildings, including a lodge and pool,but the number of residences is limited. Firefighters protected a spec house located atop one of the ridges, and older homes along the river were in less danger.