A wildfire in the Linville Gorge wilderness area, first reported last Thursday, has spread to 585 acres and is only 10 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said Monday.
The White Creek fire is burning near iconic Shortoff Mountain at the southern end of the gorge in Pisgah National Forest.
The 140 firefighters at the scene are improving fire lines on the south end of the burned area to protect private property and are trying to establish lines on the north end, the Forest Service said. They may be able to ignite a low-intensity back burn Monday to reduce the amount of fuel that would feed the wildfire.
The fire expanded Friday in dry conditions before a half-inch of rain fell that night.
“The rain on Friday night was a huge help because the fire was really growing up fast in the two days before that, from 75 acres to 585 acres,” said Lisa Jennings, a Forest Service spokeswoman.
The problem now is the area’s harsh terrain. Linville Gorge and Shortoff Mountain are popular rock-climbing sites. “There are spots where it’s a sheer cliff,” Jennings said.
Wildfires tore through North Carolina’s mountains during a drought last fall, as tinder-dry conditions and high winds combined to torch at least 55,000 acres. Wind-blown smoke from those fires was heavy enough to make Charlotte’s air unhealthy.
Linville Gorge has a long history of wildfires. That allowed firefighters to fall back to existing fire lines established in fires from 2013, 2007 and 2000.
No structures are at risk yet, and rain may move into the area Tuesday night. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Forest Service land around the fire is closed to the public. It includes land east of State Road 1238 (Old N.C. 105 / Kistler Memorial Highway), south of Conley Cove Trail, south of Table Rock Picnic Area, west of Back Irish Creek Forest Service Road #118 (Blue Gravel Road) and Roses Creek Forest Service Road #99, north of Highway 126. A number of trails are also closed: Shortoff; Rock Jock; Pinch-In; Linville Gorge south of Conley Cove Trail; and Mountains to Sea from State Road 1238 at Pinnacles to the Table Rock Picnic Area.