CHEROKEE COUNTY, N.C. -- The largest wildfire in Western North Carolina is getting bigger. The Collett Ridge Fire is burning in Cherokee County near Andrews and, despite light rainfall, is threatening several structures.
It now encompasses more than 5,000 acres. The rain is helping a little bit. But the fire is still only 5% contained.
"At this time, the Collett Ridge Fire is currently at 5,116 acres," U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Adrianne Rubiaco said.
She said 178 firefighters are on the scene near Andrews, responding from near and far, even from California, to put the fire out.
It's been burning now since an Oct. 23 lightning strike, getting bigger in dry, warm conditions. Most of the fire is burning in Nantahala National Forest, much of it in the backcountry, but 16 structures are now threatened.
"That can be homes or other sorts of buildings, barns," Rubiaco said. "There are no evacuations at this time."
Rubiaco said protecting those structures is the priority.
"We remove all the leafy debris from around their homes, and then clearing the overhanging vegetation like branches from their home and also putting in containment lines between their homes and the north side of the fire," she said.
Firefighters and engines are remaining in place overnight in the communities at risk.
Light rainfall, along with cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and cloud cover, is helping.
"All of those really help moderate fire activity," Rubiaco said.
But cloud cover means a pause in the air attack.
With the growth of the fire, comes greater complexity.
"When you're adding the communities that are close by and the terrain," Rubiaco said.
That's taking this incident to a new level. The Southern Area Blue Team is assuming command for the next two weeks.
A burn ban remains in effect -- no debris burning on private land and no campfires outside of a developed campground.
Fire personnel are keeping the Andrews Quick Pantry busy. However, the lingering smoke in the air is causing issues for store employees.
"I have a lot of problems with my lungs right now," Michelle Dockery said.
"There are times to where, like, I really can't breathe at times, so I have to, like, normally stay inside," Charlene Dockery said.
More rain is expected Sunday, but the hope remains for a big, long, soaking rain to make a big difference.
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