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Parts of Linville Gorge opening for deer hunting

MORGANTON — Bruce Hallet worried about rain, not fire, as he was getting ready for the start of this year’s deer hunting season in western North Carolina.

Parts of the Linville Gorge had been closed for nearly two weeks because of a wildfire. No homes were destroyed and no one was hurt, but the fire destroyed nearly 2,600 acres.

A few days ago, the U.S. Forest Service said a combination of wet weather and efforts by firefighters had nearly contained the fire. So they allowed rifle deer hunting season to begin as planned Monday, with parts of the gorge opened for access.

That was good news for Hallett and other hunters who flock to the mountains. But heavy rain is putting a damper on hunting.

“Yeah, it’s not great to be out here when it’s raining,” said Hallet, 46, of Fayetteville, who said there aren’t as many deer in heavy rain.

But on the plus side, the gorge was open and he was hanging out with his buddies.

“We plan this trip every year. We were worried about the fire but didn’t expect this kind of rain,” he said.

With wildfires, there’s always concern about it spreading and causing damage. In the western part of the state, tourism is critical to the economy. People visit for hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.

The fire started Nov. 12 in the Pisgah National Forest in Burke County.

District Ranger Nick Larson said the cause was still under investigation, but officials believe it was manmade.

“This time of year, they tend to be human-caused fire,” he said.

He said wildfires in the gorge are unusual.

“That particular area, once every five to seven years or so it’s dry enough where we may end up having a fire like we have right now,” Larson said.

He advised hunters to be on the lookout for new hazards that have cropped up due to the fire, like weakened trees or areas that are still smoldering.

Despite the dangers, this fire might be beneficial to wildlife because it promotes the growth of new vegetation on the forest floor, said Greg Brooks, fire management officer.

Brooks said officials will be studying the impact of the wildfire, though the fall fire season is still in full swing.

“In the summertime, we’re sort of out of our fire season here. In the fall and the spring, when all the hardwood trees go dormant and those leaves fall, that is what gives us the fuel for the wildfires,” he said.

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