Fires and downed trees in Catawba Cove are raising concerns.
Firefighters responded to island fires Aug. 17, and again Aug. 19. A Catawba Cove resident found several trees on the island set on fire and severely damaged, including a 40-foot oak that had been a focal point of the island. The tree, which had a hand-carved sign noting an Eagle Scout cleaned the island for his rank, was cut down.
Lance Foulk, Cramerton Fire Department chief, said firefighters downed the tree. Someone set a campfire in a hollow spot at the base of the tree. When firefighters found it half burned out, they brought the tree down for public safety.
“It was not going to go down without it being cut down,” Foulk said.
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For firefighters, island incidents can cause problems. Depending on where people are on the lake when they call and which cell tower the call hits, the report could go to a variety of municipalities. Cramerton firefighters assisted Belmont counterparts on the first call at the island, and then New Hope firefighters at the same island two days later.
Cramerton has a fire boat, but a dam sits between its dock and the Catawba Cove island. Firefighters pulled the boat on a trailer to the site, where they found the damage. Foulk said his department and others have no way of knowing if people are witnessing a small campfire from a distance or a significant threat to public safety.
“The problem is people keep calling when they see something,” he said. “We’re not going to not go.”
Duke Energy manages Lake Wylie, but has varying responsibilities when it comes to islands.
“Some of the islands we own, and some of them we don’t,” said spokesperson Lisa Parrish.
However, Duke’s set of rules apply to all islands. No burning is allowed. Cutting down trees is prohibited. People can use islands from sunrise to sunset, but overnight camping is prohibited. Duke puts extra officials on the water during peak times to let people know the rules, but law enforcement must enforce the rules.
“Local and state officials enforce the laws,” Parrish said. “We don’t have the enforcement.”
In cases where an island sits near municipal borders, those municipalities determine jurisdiction. Parrish said Duke and municipalities, along with the public, have a role to play in protecting islands.
“We all want to keep them as pristine as possible,” she said.
In any emergency, call 911.
John Marks: 803-831-8166