White Lake Fire chief Dale Brennan said between 75 and 100 volunteers from five departments, plus Forestry Service employees from Singletary Lake and Jones Lake State Parks, fought to control the fire for about five hours.
The fire was centered roughly between state-owned property at the lake and the boat ramp canal. No homes were in immediate danger, and no one was evacuated.
An aid station set up at the Bay Tree Fire Station saw a steady stream of firemen seeking drinking water, but no major injuries were reported.
One fireman joked that it was "way too hot to be fighting a fire."
Firefighters were on the scene from before 4 p.m. until after 9 Wednesday night. Forestry officials were back on the scene Thursday watching for potential flareups.
From the beginning, Brennan said, firefighters had their hands full.
The fire was deep within a Carolina Bay, feeding off pine straw, peat, decaying vegetation and trees toppled by storms.
The county is still approximately 14 inches below normal rainfall.
Still, the ground was wet enough to cause problems. Heavy pumpers couldn't move deeply into the bay because of the soft, muddy soil.
High winds and thunderstorms in neighboring counties kept heavy firefighting aircraft grounded, and shortened the amount of time a spotter aircraft could remain on the scene.
Several Forestry Service fire tractors were brought in from neighboring counties, Brennan said, to augment the one tractor currently assigned here.
Operators had to try several different avenues of attack before they could enter the bay. The tractors kept getting stuck in the marshy soil.
Meanwhile, high winds whipped the flames through the tops of trees. The winds change directions several times as well, forcing firemen to withdraw.
"It was a mess," Brennan said.
The flames came within 100 yards of the boat ramp at Singletary Lake. Firefighters concentrated on keeping a defensive line between the fire and the several dozen homes that make up the Bay Tree Lakes development.
"With the wind and the access problems," Brennan said, "this was a high potential fire."
Much of the area is covered by undeveloped woodland. The forest is filled with hurricane-downed trees and dry underbrush, as well as hundreds of years of pine straw.
Brennan said that if a line of storms hadn't developed Wednesday evening, bringing a drenching rain, the situation "could have been like the fires out west," where massive wildfires have destroyed homes in Arizona, California and other states.
"For a while," Brennan said, "we were not sure that we could keep the fire from jumping N.C. 41. The fire was just rolling through the treetops"
Had the fire crossed the highway, firefighters would basically have had to fight two large scale forest fires-after cutting paths through the woods using heavy tractors and fireplows.
"This is the type of fire that demonstrates why the Forestry Service needs two tractors in Bladen County," Brennan said.
"If we hadn't been blessed with that rain," he said, "we could have had a disaster on our hands."
An estimate of the acerage burned was not available Thursday.