Southerners wearing masks as smoke streams from mountains

ATLANTA (AP) — Wildfires near the Georgia-North Carolina line are spewing smoke so thick that residents are being urged to wear special masks if they must do outdoor activities.

The fires — many of them suspected arsons — have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee in recent days.

The largest of dozens of ongoing wildfires in the South has now burned 13,300 acres, more than a third of the vast Cohutta Wilderness area, in the north Georgia mountains just south of the Tennessee line.

Fire managers said Saturday that the blaze, believed to have ignited from a lightning strike in mid-October, was only 20 percent contained.

In Macon County, North Carolina, special health masks were being made available Saturday. Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said they’re distributing N95-rated masks as regular surgical masks don’t provide adequate protection from smoke particles.

And yet, the drifting smoke that prompted air quality authorities to declare a Code Orange on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, cleared enough for Saturday’s Charlotte Marathon to be run as planned under crisp blue skies.

Kristen Butterfield, who works at a local shop in Chimney Rock, North Carolina told the Asheville Citizen-Times that around noon Friday authorities began ordering people to evacuate. Then she saw a structure catch fire.