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Local volunteer fire departments to receive donation from ADT Security after house fire response

CRESTON — After responding to a house fire at the beginning of the month at Higher Ground farm near the Tennessee line, three local volunteer fire departments will each receive a $2,500 check from ADT Security.

On the morning of Oct. 4, Tomme Ann Harless was cooking using her wood burning stove when a fire started. She was able to extinguish her stove but was unable to extinguish the active fire in the chimney.

She ran outside to confirm the fire and she said she could tell by the burnt creosote smell and the yellowish-black color of the thick smoke coming from the chimney.

According to Harless, her ADT alarm system sensor contacted the company’s central station and she received phone calls from both ADT and local dispatch.

Pond Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, Creston Volunteer Fire Department and Warrensville Volunteer Fire Department all responded to the fire that morning. In order to extinguish the chimney fire, firefighters had to climb onto the roof and attack the fire from the top. Once the fire was out, they cleaned the chimney out using a rotary brush.

To further ensure the removal of all of the creosote present in the chimney, the firefighters and Harless completely emptied the stove.

According to Harless, the aftermath of the fire was overwhelming and the entire room where the stove is located was covered in soot as well as the debris from the fire extinguisher.

“I was very grateful that they were willing to clean it, because they all have lives and they don’t get paid,” Harless said. “They are volunteers, they are taking time out of their life to come help their neighbor.”

Director of Public Relations for ADT Security, Bob Tucker shared some of the details about the monetary gift.

According to Tucker, ADT monitored alarm systems feature both a burglar alarm and a smoke detector connected wirelessly to the company’s six monitored centers. When Harless’ smoke detector sensed the presence of smoke, it sent a signal to the center located in Jacksonville, Fla. The emergency dispatch agent who received the signal saw something was happening at Harless’ home in Creston and contacted her. After confirming with Harless that there was a fire in her chimney, the dispatcher called 9-1-1 on her behalf and the three fire departments were dispatched to her home.

“We like to recognize first responders for the great work that they do and we do this many times around the country with providing monetary recognition through our ADT Lifesaver Program,” Tucker said.

Each department will receive a check, with no strings attached, giving them the ability to spend the money however they choose for things such as training or equipment.

Tucker said on Oct. 20 that they were in the process of completing paperwork and plan for departments to receive the checks by the end of the month.

According to Tucker, since it was a Sunday morning, several of the volunteers who responded to the fire at Harless’ residence left church services they were attending and showed up in church clothes, with one of the female firefighters arriving in a dress and high heels.

“ADT is pleased and proud to recognize these volunteer firefighters who are true heroes of the community and help come to the rescue for our customer in a time of need,” Tucker said.

After the event on Oct. 4, Harless received a phone call from ADT about the upcoming donation, which totals $7,500 and will be divided among the three fire departments.

Harless said the donation is much appreciated, but very unexpected. When she contacted Pond Mountain Fire Chief Lee Denny, Creston Fire Chief Junior Seatz and Warrensville Fire Chief Brian Ashley to inform them of the news they were all just as surprised as she was.

“This is something that has never happened before, it is very nice and thoughtful of them to do that,” Ashley said about the donation.

Seatz said he was glad he and his department could help on Oct. 4 and said receiving the donation is a new experience for all of them and it will greatly help them continue to serve the community.

“One of my members got there first because he just lives there below her and he said that he could tell the chimney was on fire because it was burning out the top of the flue when he got there,” Denny said about the morning of the fire. “He just got on the radio and told us we needed to come on.”

Harless stressed that there is a lack of funding for volunteers and encouraged those that feel inclined to do so to make donations to local fire departments.

“It is a wonderful thing they do, it is a wonderful service and the community is so much better off with the volunteers,” Harless said.

Harless, along with Denny and Seatz provided tips about fire safety and chimney and stove maintenance.

They recommended having a fire extinguisher handy, smoke detectors installed and regularly replacing the batteries and completing preventative maintenance such as regularly cleaning chimney flues. Those unable to complete cleaning themselves can contact local fire departments for assistance.

“Don’t burn green firewood, choose firewood that is seasoned,” Harless said.

She added that burning sappy woods such as Pine, will generate a lot of creosote that will build up in chimney flues and catch fire.

Harless also emphasized that volunteers at local fire departments serve as first responders.

On Sept. 23, 2010, Harless had a near-fatal accident on her farm. She was wall-stacking round bales of hay, each weighing approximately 1,200 pounds, in her silage pit. Some of the hay fell on top of Harless, crushing her pelvis and the cell phone that was on her side. She was left paralyzed from the waist down as a result.

After much prayer, she was able to take her hands and dig herself a small space in the hay and rotate herself onto her belly. She then dragged herself 83 feet using her elbows from the silage pit across her pasture and back underneath her hay trailer to avoid being trampled on by her cattle and dehydration from the sun. It was 85 degrees outside at the time and she laid there for approximately six hours before help arrived.

During the incident, she tried multiple times to get her phone to turn on, removing the battery and trying to get it to reboot. None of her actions had an effect on the phone and she continued praying for God to send someone to find her or realize she was missing.

Creston VFD and Pond Mountain VFD were first on the scene to assist Harless.

All county fire departments could all use more volunteers for both fire and rescue situations and those who are interested are encouraged to contact Denny at (336) 620-2841 or Seatz at (336) 620-1965.

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Cooper: NC to remain in Phase 3 for three more weeks
Watauga among 36 counties asked to consider additional local actions

RALEIGH — North Carolina will remain paused in Phase 3 for the next three weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

“Because several of our trends are moving in the wrong direction, North Carolina will remain paused in Phase 3 for the next three weeks,” Cooper said. “We hope that greater enforcement, strong community leadership and more people doing the right things can lower these numbers.

“It’s critical that we take this time to focus on the basics — wear a mask, wash your hands, wait six feet apart from other people,” the governor continued. “These are the habits that helped lower our numbers over the summer, and they are still our best tools.”

Cooper’s announcement followed a brief presentation by N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, who noted that the numbers of daily new cases have been on the rise in the state over the past few weeks, reaching new peaks on Thursday and Friday of last week.

“We have now surpassed our previous peak that occurred in July,” Cohen said.

She also characterized the numbers of patients presenting with COVID-19-like symptoms and the percentage of tests that are positive as stable, but “still too high.” And while hospitalizations have been increasing statewide, there is still capacity, but some smaller hospitals are feeling strained, she said.

“This has been a really hard year,” Cohen said. “I understand how much everyone wants to be with family and friends without having to worry about a virus. As hard as this is, it will end. We will get through this.”

But “ignoring the virus does not make it go away,” she added. “Wearing a mask is not about how well you know someone. When you’re with someone you don’t live with, wear a mask over your mouth and nose.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Cohen and Secretary of Department of Public Safety Erik Hooks sent a letter to local officials in communities with increased viral spread urging their continued action in fighting COVID-19 and suggesting additional measures to mitigate its spread.

According to the governor’s office, the letter was sent to county and municipal leaders in 36 counties, including Watauga and Avery, that met the following metrics: the county has had 300 or more new cases in the last 14 days and has been identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern; the rate of cases is greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people; or the county is one of the three most populous in the state.

In addition to sharing resources to encourage people to wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash hands, the letter outlined local actions to consider that have less severe penalties for violating COVID-19 executive orders than what is available through the state-level emergency powers.

While the penalty for violating the state-level executive order is limited to criminal citations, which could result in imprisonment, city and county governments can create ordinances that carry more flexible consequences such as civil fines, the governor’s office stated. Examples of local actions include:

• Adopting an ordinance that imposes a civil penalty for violating its provisions.

• Issuing a local emergency proclamation setting higher standards to address the COVID-19 pandemic, such as imposing fines for businesses that do not enforce the mask requirements; establishing lower mass gathering limits; curtailing the sale of alcohol earlier than 11 p.m.; closing high-risk venues such as bars and night spots; and limiting restaurant service.

• Supporting the local health director to issue and enforce an Imminent Hazard Abatement Order against entities whose actions, including failure to comply with the governor’s executive order, present an imminent hazard to the community.

Phase 3 delayed as state COVID-19 numbers continue to climb

ASHE COUNTY — According to AppHealthCare, there were 41 active cases of COVID-19 in Ashe County as of noon, Oct. 27, with a further 83 individuals being monitored.

Ashe has seen eight deaths linked to COVID-19. In Watauga County, 16 deaths have been linked to COVID-19, with one more in Alleghany. Across the state, there have been 4,211 deaths, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

North Carolina had 263,883 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) as of noon on Tuesday, Oct. 27, according to the NCDHHS. This is more than 16,000 more cases than the same time a week earlier.

According to the NCDHHS weekly update of outbreaks in congregate living settings, nine staff members and 15 residents have tested positive at Forest Ridge Assisted Living as of Oct. 23.

As of Oct. 27 at noon, there were 449 total confirmed cases for Ashe, an additional 48 cases in one week. There have been 1,749 confirmed cases in Watauga County, with 70 active, and 290 confirmed cases in Alleghany County, with 16 active, according to AppHealthCare.

North Carolina moved into Phase 3 of the statewide reopening plan beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.

Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7 percent occupancy for spectators with other safety protocols, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a press briefing in Raleigh. Smaller outdoor entertainment venues may operate outdoors at 30 percent of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less, he said.

Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30 percent of capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less.

Bars may operate outdoors only at 30 percent of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less. Outdoor amusement parks may open at 30 percent occupancy.

The limits on mass gatherings will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, Cooper noted. The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars will also be extended.

The statewide mask mandate for everyone over the age of 5 remains in effect, and adults over 65 and those with health risks are still advised to stay home as much as possible, the governor said.

Phase 3 was scheduled to end Oct. 23, however Cooper announced Oct. 21 that it would be extended by three weeks. Cooper said it was due to the numbers of cases continuing to rise, hoping that stronger community leadership and “people doing the right thing” will help stop the spread of the disease.


Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22, which was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.

The Ashe County Courthouse is observing normal business hours, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office. Upon entry to the courthouse, each visitor is required to wear a mask and have their temperature checked.


On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.

Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center, Ashe Assisted Living and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.

Recreation and Entertainment

The N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27. All parks have since reopened with various rules and regulations reflecting the state’s status.

Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.

These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.

The Ashe County Public Library re-opened Monday, June 15, with limited hours, services and building capacity. The Ashe County Public Library’s hours of operation will be Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The first hour of service each day is currently being reserved for people most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

The library will still be offering curbside pickup options and there will be no in-person programs or meetings. For more information about Ashe County Public Library, visit the website at www.arlibrary.org/ashe or call (336) 846-2041.

The Ashe County Arts Council re-opened the Arts Center Thursday, June 25, however closed again Friday, Oct. 9 after the staff was exposed to a COVID-19 case. The Arts Council announced Friday, Oct. 16 they had reopened.

Ashe County Park reopened May 11, and all facilities including bathrooms, playgrounds, courts, skate park and shelters will remain closed.

The NCHSAA announced it would allow the start of summer activities on June 11. Ashe County High School began off-season sessions July 6. The NCHSAA has since released a revised sports calendar for the 2020-21 school year, with no sports starting until November.

Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at kevinanderson@ashecountygov.com. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.

Emergency Services

At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive.

Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, and have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside. Sheriff Phil Howell said the ACSO still wants people to know they are in the community.

According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.


It was announced July 14 that the state would have a school year following Plan B, with Ashe County Schools stating they planned to alternate students’ days in the classroom when the year begins, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

On Sept. 17, Cooper announced school districts will be allowed to operate under Plan A for K-5 students, allowing schools to reopen without capacity limits effective Oct. 5, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

At the Ashe County Board of Education meeting Sept. 24, the board voted 5-0 for K-5 Ashe County Schools to operate under Plan A beginning Monday, Oct. 19.

For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.

Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.

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More than 7,000 votes cast in Ashe with one week before Election Day

JEFFERSON — Ashe County voter turnout has been high, with the 2020 election less than a week away.

According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, 7,777 votes had been cast in Ashe County as of 5 a.m. Oct. 27. Of those, 1,687 were mail-in ballots. In total, 40.06 percent of registered voters have already filled out their ballots.

In comparison, 13,637 votes were cast in Ashe in the entirety of the 2016 election, working out to 71.62 percent of registered voters.

Statewide, more than 3.4 million North Carolinians have voted so far, 46.57 percent of registered voters. More than 800,000 votes were cast by mail. in the 2016 election, more than 4.7 million votes were cast, 68.98 percent of registered voters at the time, according to the NCSBE.

As of Oct. 27, there has been 12 days on one-stop voting, along with mail-in ballots. Statewide, more than 544,000 votes had been cast in N.C. prior to one-stop voting’s start on Oct. 15. This is compared to roughly 55,000 votes with the same parameters from 2016.

So far, the lowest turnout of any single day in N.C. has been Sunday, Oct. 25, where about 65,000 votes were cast, compared to the highest turnout on Oct. 15, the first day of one-stop voting, with about 374,000 votes, according to the NCSBE.

One-stop voting in Ashe County is being held at the Ashe County Agriculture Building, located at 134 Government Circle in Jefferson. One-stop voting will end Saturday, Oct. 31.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, voters will enter through the back of the building. According to Elections Director John Shepherd, every voter will be asked to wear a mask, but the board cannot stop someone from voting if they are not. Social distancing will be enforced and each booth will be cleaned in between each voter.

On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Some residents of Ashe County’s 17 voting precincts could have a different Election Day polling site than in years past. That’s because county elections office have sought out larger venues for polling sites to provide more space for physical distancing amid COVID-19 concerns.

For more information about voting in Ashe County, contact the Ashe County Board of Elections office at (336) 846-5570 or by email at ashe.boe@gmail.com.

The elections office is located inside Ashe County Courthouse at 150 Government Circle Suite 2100 in Jefferson. Its website is www.ashecountygov.com/departments/board-of-elections.