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Firefighters in Pender try to Avoid Fatigue

By Michelle Bliss

07-05-11 – About 150 firefighters are still working to control the Juniper Road fire in Pender County which has burned more than 31,000 acres and has been 68% contained for a week now.

Firefighters are trying to avoid fatigue as they continue battling the blaze ignited by a lightening strike more than two weeks ago. Workers from county, state, and federal agencies are now involved.

Bruce MacDonald is a spokesperson for the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources. He says crews are taking precautions to prevent dangerous worker-fatigue.

"We generally have people work about a 14-day shift at the most until they need to go home for at least a couple of days to get rest before they can come back. And then when folks are working in the smoky conditions, we try to schedule and work around that so they're not in there for a long time in the heaviest smoke."

For those 14-day shifts, firefighters work 12 to 14 hours each day. MacDonald says that in past years, crews across the state worked up to 21-day shifts and the most on-site accidents and injuries occurred during that final week on the job because of fatigue.

As crews pace themselves, MacDonald reports that the northern edge of the fire has crept into a swampy area south of Shaken Creek.

"The fire's in there and burning in a couple of areas that's almost impossible for us to go in and try to put any type of line on the fire. Right now, we expect it to stay south of Shaken Creek and we'll continue to work hot spots with aircraft and on the ground as available."

The fire's pace has slowed since entering the swampy area, and MacDonald says crews are just waiting for a significant rain to drop several inches of water on the flames.

Check for updates on the Juniper Road fire.

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