Firefighters made good progress Friday against a wildfire near Chimney Rock, reinforcing their lines during the calm before a weekend windstorm expected to test their defenses.
Winds Saturday are expected to gust up to 45 mph and 25 mph on Sunday, said Dan Byrd, forecaster for the so-called Party Rock fire command in Lake Lure.
Commanders said the fire – which has devoured 6,712 acres – had been about a third contained by late Friday. Danger had largely passed in the narrow gulch containing Chimney Rock and residents, evacuated a week ago, were to be allowed to return to their homes at noon Saturday.
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Helicopters carrying water buckets the size of a Fiat and tanker planes were used to deny territory to the fire in the rugged mountains south of Asheville.
Firefighters have also carved lines in the forest to contain the blaze as it moves northward this weekend fed by winds from the south.
About 1,000 firefighters are engaged in the fire near Lake Lure and fire departments as far away as Arizona have sent crews to defend homes and structures in the area. So far there have been no casualties and no loss of buildings.
“We think this weekend will determine how it will end,” said Andy Lyon, a spokesman for the fire command. “If our lines hold, we think it will be on a downward path.”