Wildfires continued their slow march through western North Carolina wilderness this weekend, feeding on parched underbrush and beetle-damaged pine trees.
More than 9,600 acres had been scorched by Saturday morning.
The largest fires were in the Linville Gorge federal wilderness area about 40 miles northeast of Asheville. Both were 65 percent contained as of Saturday morning and neither threatened any populated areas.
The rough terrain has caused firefighters the most trouble, said Bill Paxton, a Forest Service spokesman. He said the fire was moving south along a predictable course at a rate of about a mile a day.
The region has been starved for rain for more than a month. Clouds that moved in Saturday were expected to produce insignificant rain, though Paxton said winds had stayed at about 10 mph and didn't appear to be fanning the flames.
The fire, in an area popular with rock climbers, was estimated to have spread over 2,375 acres, Paxton said. A base camp for the outdoor group Outward Bound was evacuated, but the structures weren't in danger, he said.
Smaller fires to the north and west were largely contained Saturday morning.
In Mitchell County on the Tennessee border, a 2,000-acre fire partially on federal land was 60 percent contained.
Some houses were still threatened, but families that had been evacuated were allowed to return home.
A fire of more than 660 acres in Surry County, on the Virginia border, was 40 percent to 60 percent contained as crews lit backfires and an air tanker dropped water on the flames.
One 200-acre fire in Haywood County, a 100-acre fire in Wilkes County and three fires that scorched a total of 182 acres in Madison County were fully contained.
Ultimately, Paxton said, the fire will have a beneficial effect in many areas, clearing the forest floor to allow new grasses and wildflowers to grow and attract wildlife.
"Nature's taking care of itself. It's going to take all the dead stuff," he said. "But it's terrible to go through this exercise to get to that."