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The Blue Gravel wildfire was still burning as of this afternoon (Monday, April 13) in a remote area east of Shortoff Mountain just outside Linville Gorge Wilderness area in the Pisgah National Forest. With dry conditions yesterday, the fire increased to the south and west and is now estimated at 221 acres. Light rain in the area overnight, along with overcast skies and higher humidity reduced fire activity this morning. Today, firefighters have been monitoring the fire. Precipitation the was in the forecast into the evening hours and tomorrow was expected to aid firefighting efforts. For public safety the southern Linville Gorge Wilderness area from Chimney Gap south and east of the Linville River was temporarily closed as of late this afternoon. In addition, the following roads and trails remain closed within the fire area:

Back Irish Creek Road (Forest Road 118), also known as the Blue Gravel Road. Shortoff Trail (TR 235). Mountains to Sea Trail (TR 440) from the Pinnacles trailhead to the Table Rock Picnic Area.

Approximately 80 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, N.C. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and local volunteer fire departments are assigned to the fire. Burke County and North Carolina Emergency Management are supporting fire operations. Minimizing risk for firefighters, local communities, and the public are primary objectives.

The Blue Gravel fire is burning in an area where wildfires have frequently occurred allowing the use of previously established containment lines. Yesterday, firefighters improved fire lines that were successful in achieving containment in the past, and use of them will likely allow firefighters to minimize disturbance within the wilderness area. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Remains found in Burke County have been positively identified, it has been determined that they are connected to a missing persons case.

On March 16, the Criminal Investigation Division of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office received a report that hunters were hunting near the spillway at Lake James and discovered what they believed to be a human skull. Investigators responded to the area and confirmed the remains were human. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was contacted and requested to assist. Due to the terrain and size of the area, teams from Burke County Search and Rescue and Cadaver Canines from Linville Central Rescue Squad were called to help with the search. Several other bones and tissue were located. A Forensic Anthropologist from Western Carolina University was contacted and responded for assistance in identifying the remains. The remains were sent to the North Carolina State Medical Examiner’s Office.

On February 5, a report was filed with the Burke County Sheriff’s Office reporting a gentleman had been living in a makeshift camp on the shore of Lake James near the spillway and he had not been seen in several weeks. The man was identified as 35-year-old Walter Edward Shirey IV. Dental records were obtained from Mr. Shirey’s relatives and forwarded to the State Medical Examiner. Last Friday (April 10), the State Medical Examiner confirmed the remains were that of Walter Edward Shirey IV. Based on information gathered during the investigation, no foul play was discovered.

22-year-old Donovan Tyrell Lortz of 5th Avenue S.W. and 20-year-old Tony Tuan Nguyen of 5th Avenue N.W., both from Hickory, were both arrested by Hickory Police on drug charges early Sunday morning. Lortz was charged with carrying a concealed gun, maintaining a vehicle, dwelling or place for a controlled substance and possession of marijuana paraphernalia. He was also charged on failure to appear warrants issued last month for possessing, buying or selling a gun with an altered serial number, felony possession of cocaine and resisting an officer. Nguyen was charged with one felony count of possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver a controlled substance.

Events leading to their arrests began at 4 a.m. yesterday when Police responded to the Ridgecrest apartment complex on 12th Avenue S.E. in Hickory where they found two men in a vehicle with the engine running. As Officers woke the driver, Donovan Lortz, he became argumentative and refused to exit the vehicle. Officers saw a revolver in Lortz’s pocket. They were able to diffuse the situation and safely remove Lortz from the vehicle.

A search was conducted, leading to the discovery of 8.5 grams of marijuana in two packages, a Raven arms handgun, eight Alprazolam tablets and $1,600 in cash.

Both men were taken into custody without further incident. Bond for Lortz was set at $132,000 secured. Nguyen was given a $4,750 secured. He has since been released. Both suspects were scheduled to appear in District Court today in Newton. Lortz also has a Superior Court date coming up on April 17.

21-year-old Lindsay Nicole Cobb was arrested Sunday (April 12) by authorities in Burke County. She’s charged with felony possession of schedule II controlled substance. Following the arrest, Cobb was jailed under $40,000 secured bond. A District Court appearance was scheduled for today (Monday, April 13) in Morganton.

30-year-old Johnny Joshuah Corpening was arrested Sunday (April 12) by Morganton Public Safety Officers. He’s charged with felony possession of schedule II controlled substance, and driving while impaired. Following the arrest, Corpening was placed in jail under $11,000 secured bond. A District Court appearance was scheduled for today (Monday, April 13).

27-year-old Destiny Nicole Miller of Highway 268 in Lenoir was arrested Friday (April 10) by Caldwell County Sheriff’s Officers. She’s charged with felony counts of larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and possession of stolen property. Following the arrest, Miller was detained in the Caldwell County Detention Center under $50,000 secured bond. She was scheduled to appear in District Court today (Monday, April 13).

Good economic news for the Greater Hickory Metro Area and for much of the state according to the latest numbers released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce Labor and Economic Analysis Division. The report was released last week and showed a decrease in the jobless rates in all of the Greater Hickory Metro counties. The figures released reflect the unemployment rates for February.

The unemployment rate in Catawba County dipped to 5.6 percent in February from 5.8 percent in January. In Alexander County unemployment fell to 4.8 percent, down from 5 percent even in the previous report. In Burke County the jobless rate went from 5.9 percent in January to 5.7 percent in February. The Caldwell County unemployment rate also dropped two-tenths of a percent, from 6.6 percent to 6.4 percent.

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. That’s tied for tenth lowest out of 15 MSAs in the state. The unemployment rate across the Metropolitan Statistical area also dropped two-tenths of a percent, from 5.9 in the January report.

Statewide the unemployment rate also decreased by that familiar two-tenths of a percent. North Carolina’s unemployment rate went from 5.9 percent in January to 5.7 percent in February. Unemployment rates decreased in 89 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, increased in five, and remained unchanged in six. Graham County and Hyde County tied for the highest unemployment rate at 14.2 percent, and Orange County had the lowest at 4.2 percent.

16-year-old Jordan Luke Harwood of Providence Mill Road in Maiden was arrested Saturday (April 11) by Catawba County Sheriff’s Officers. He’s charged with possession of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of stolen goods. Following the arrest, Harwood was incarcerated in the Catawba County Detention Facility under $11,000 bond. A Superior Court appearance is scheduled for Friday (April 17).

30-year-old Timmie Ray Beam of Glimmering Sand Lane in Conover was arrested Saturday (April 11) by Catawba County Sheriff’s Officers. He’s charged with fail to register as a sex offender, and felony probation violation. Following the arrest, Beam was incarcerated in the Catawba County Detention Facility under $20,000 bond. A District Court appearance is scheduled for April 20.

A fatal shooting in Lenoir involving a 15-year-old victim remains under investigation.

According to a news release issued Sunday by the Lenoir Police Department, on Friday, (April 10) at 11:19 p.m, Lenoir Police Officers responded to a 911 call from Atwood Drive in Lenoir reporting there was a shooting victim inside an apartment. Upon arrival, Officers found a gunshot victim inside Apartment C-9 at 307 Atwood Drive. The Lenoir Fire Department and Caldwell County EMS assessed the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

The name of the victim has not been released, the news release just identifies him as a white male. Various published reports state the victim was a student at Hibriten High School. Investigation into this incident by the Lenoir Police Department Criminal Investigations Division and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations is continuing.

The news release from Lenoir Police says no further information is available for release at this time. Anyone with information about the case should call the Lenoir Police Department at 828-757-2100 or report anonymously to Lenoir/Caldwell County Crimestoppers at 828-758-8300.