updated 6/5/2008 3:48:20 PM ET 2008-06-05T19:48:20

A wildfire that started on a wildlife refuge in rural eastern North Carolina and burned into privately owned rural land doubled in size as it sent smoke and ash as far away as the Outer Banks and neighboring Virginia.

The fire consumed more than 20,500 acres, or just over 32 square miles, of forest and fields at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. About half the fire was burning on the refuge and about half was on private land Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, officials said.

No injuries were reported and no structures had burned, said North Carolina Forest Service spokesman Brian Haines.

The fire started from lightning Sunday at the wildlife refuge and gradually spread during the week because of dry conditions and flammable peat soil.

Evacuation orders were issued Thursday for homes in parts of Tyrrell County and for a Hyde County subdivision because there was no way out if the fire reached it, officials said. Authorities asked 39 homeowners around Lake Phelps to leave on Wednesday.

Earlier Thursday, smoke and ash filled the air in the town of Manteo, about 45 miles east of the fire, as well as in Chesapeake, Va., some 75 miles north of the refuge, officials said.

The fire could last two months or more unless the area gets substantial rainfall, said Tony Spencer of Hyde County Emergency Management.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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