PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- The Juniper Road Fire in Pender County is close to being 100 percent contained. The NC Forest Service just passed command of the fire to the local office in Whiteville; a move made possible by improved containment and fewer crews fighting the fire.
Sunday's rain was a big help for those fighting the fire. Crews say the fire is now 92 percent contained.
When the Juniper Road Fire started in late June, more than 200 people worked to put it out. Now in August only about 30 people are working the fire in the Holly Shelter Game Land. Flames are not often seen now, but crews remain busy working to put out ground fires and hot spots.
"The rain last night helped out tremendously," Chris Meggs with the NC Forest Service said. "The containment estimation is now at about 92 percent. Still a whole lot of work to be done, but looking a lot better than a few days ago."
The fire has burned more than 31,000 acres since a lightning strike sparked it. This prompted fire crews from all over the country to help out, including some from as far away as Alaska. Most out-of-state crews have returned home, but firefighters from Tennessee and Virginia are still helping out.
"North Carolina: they're our neighbors," said Rick Butler of the Virginia Department of Forestry. "We want to help anyone we can. At least that's my attitude."
For some out-of-state firefighters, the Juniper Road Fire has even become educational.
"The fuel and vegetation is a lot different than where I am from, so it's been a great learning experience to see how to fight the opposing fire and ground fire," Virginia's Kathlieen Ogilvy said.
The NC Forest Service does not have a timeline on when the fire could be 100 percent contained, but crews say more heavy rain could mean an end to the fire that has burned for six weeks.
"There's more and more good work being done every day, but with ground fire it takes significant rain meaning almost a tropical storm to put enough water on it," Meggs said.
The fire has cost at least $3.5 million to fight so far.
The Simmons Road Fire also continues to smolder in Bladen County. Crews there are on a monitor and patrol status, putting out any ground fires they may find.