Officials announced the fire that consumed around 40 acres of woods Tuesday was human-caused, but what exactly the humans did is still under investigation.

Inside the wooded area where the fire consumed the underbrush and scorched the bark of hardwoods and loblolly pines, 12-foot earthen pathways form a perimeter around the fire scene, a man-made barrier created during the fire battle by heavy equipment and first responders.

The ground was still warm Wednesday afternoon, the surface still black with charred organic material and white flakey ash.

The Forest Service is not releasing who started the fire due to the ongoing investigation, said District Ranger Donald Meadows with the North Carolina Forest Service.

The forest service has the ability to issue fine and misdemeanor charges for a variety of things, including allowing an outside fire to become out of control, Onslow County Ranger Brett Evans with the North Carolina Forest Service previously told The Daily News.

In this case, Evans said the responsible party could just get a waiver, but it all depends on the outcome of the investigation.

“With fire investigations, we try to rule out every possibility before we (determine) what the cause is,” Meadows said.

Part of the reason the fire got as out of control as it did Tuesday was due to an unforeseen increase in winds, Evans said, and the wind factor will come into play when determining fault. Meadows is the fire investigator in this case and he will also be looking at whether the person or people who started the fire were initially told it wasn’t a good day to burn when they submitted their plans to do the burn, or if they submitted them at all.

The Forest Service can’t tell someone not to burn, Evans said, but they can strongly suggest against it. Evans did not know if this burn was approved or not.

The punishment for causing a fire like this ranges from a waiver, which is granted when the fire is caused accidentally, to a warning, Meadows said, or the responsible party could be arrested.

The Forest Service and the Holly Ridge fire and police departments will be patrolling and keeping an eye on the wood in the coming days, Evans said.

Still smoldering

Many Folkestone Road residents were inside their homes when the fire started, including Sylvia Audet who lives on the roadway directly across from where the woods burned. She was prepared to evacuate the home she’d lived in for 13 years that was once her mother’s.

“I was concerned and it was unnerving. I knew we might have to leave to the evacuation site but as it turned out we stayed,” Audet said Wednesday afternoon with the smell of fire still lingering and smoldering limbs on the forest floor still emitting wisps of white smoke.

Also across from Audet’s home is a fire hydrant.

“There was a fire truck parked by the hydrant, but my son had a garden hose out on our front lawn just in case the fire jumped the road,” Audet said, adding that she saw fire equipment on the scene until after 10 p.m.

The fire could have been worse, Onslow County Fire Marshal Brian Kelly said.

“That fire was moving very quickly,” he said. “When you have fire jumping two-and-three lane roads, that’s not a good thing.”

At one point, Kelly said the fire jumped over U.S. 17 to burn the grassy median, then jumped again and burned a bit on the opposite side of the road.

It was a mixture of the first being so fast-moving and the wind that made it as big as it was, Kelly said.

This time of year, it’s more dangerous to burn, Evans previously told The Daily News. Late winter into early spring is the most dangerous time because the weather is warmed with low humidity and wind just makes it worse. Instead, burns should talk when winds are calm, humidity is higher and temperatures are lower.

It’s suggested that any planned burns be done in the early morning or early evening as the temperature is generally lower and the humidity is usually higher, he said. Also keep water buckets, a hose, rakes, and shovels nearby to help contain the fire.

Getting help

It’s difficult to determine who needs to be called to fires like this when the bulk of responding departments are volunteer based.

“It’s better to request it and not need it than to need it and not request it,” Kelly said of calling in help.

Responding departments for this fire included Camp Lejeune Fire Department, Holly Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, Holly Ridge Police Department, Nine Mile Volunteer Fire Department, Half Moon Volunteer Fire Department, Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department, North Topsail Beach Fire Department, Turkey Creek Volunteer Fire Department, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, State Highway Patrol, Pender County Emergency Management, Pender County Fire and Rescue, Onslow County Emergency Services, and North Carolina Forest Service.

Firefighters on scene felt it was better to go ahead and get people on the way in case they were needed, though Kelly said they were lucky that the wind died down, the fire ran out of fuel, and plows were there to help kill the fire.

“It just all worked in our favor,” Kelly said.

Fires like this and the trailer that burned early Tuesday morning on Collingwood Lane in Maysville are the reasons more volunteers are needed, Kelly said. During the daytime, volunteer firefighters may be at another job or tied up and unable to help.

“The time of day was quite a big factor in the number of people we were going to have,” Kelly said.

It’s not like a paid fire department where you know exactly how many people are responding to a call, Kelly said. The calls go out to multiple volunteer departments in hopes that enough people show up to help because they’re unable to wait and see who all is able to respond.

“We’re in the business of fighting fires,” Kelly said. “Every second counts.”

Even those who don’t want to fight fire can help, he continued. There’s always something to do, whether it’s changing air cylinder packs for the firefighters, driving the truck, or just cutting the grass.

A firefighter in a recruitment video Kelly watched recently said he volunteers because when he lays his head down at night, he knows he’s done the right thing and helped his fellow man.

“I think that is so profound. It’s the reason that I got into it,” Kelly said. “It’s just a good feeling to help.”

Daily News photographer Mike McHugh contributed to this report.