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Out-of-state workers could be headed home as rain slows wildfires

After the threat of severe weather Wednesday forced firefighters to briefly halt their efforts battling wildfires in North Georgia, they were back at work Thursday. And it’s expected that some out-of-state workers could get relief after those storms brought an added 1.5 inches of rain to Fannin County.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service had expected the state’s largest wildfire in Rough Ridge to be fully contained by Wednesday, but storms that brought at least 13 tornadoes to the Southeast briefly halted those efforts.

Those fighting the blaze were back on the scene Thursday as the fire, which spans 27,870 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, was 95 percent contained.

Crews will focus Thursday on clearing roads and trails of storm debris and downed trees, and fixing lines of bulldozers in place to block the fire’s spread, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The Forest Service is part of a multi-agency team that is fighting the Rough Ridge fire and another one in Rock Mountain in Rabun County. The team includes more than 100 people in Rough Ridge and is managed by the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership.

RELATED: Where are the active fires?

The Rock Mountain blaze has torched 24,725 acres about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia. That fire was 63 percent contained Thursday, and crews included about 605 people.

The fire isn’t expected to be fully contained until Dec. 15, according to an Incident Management Situation Report.

Rain failed to extinguish any large fires in Georgia, but it did reduce them significantly.

Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said although nine fires are still active, calls were down from nearly 80 a day two weeks ago to 20 Wednesday.

Fire officials plan to send out-of-area firefighters who flew to Georgia to help back home.

“We feel that the fire danger has diminished to a level that local resources should be able to handle it,” Burnett said. “That being said, we still need to get back into that pattern of regular rainfall.”

Logs, dead trees and stumps continue to hold heat and can reignite leaves at any point.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Burnett said.

The metro area was hit with storms and three radar-confirmed tornadoes Wednesday. Its air quality issues resulting from smoke diminished days ago.

WEATHER: Cleanup underway after 3 tornadoes in metro Atlanta

“Metro Atlanta and areas around Atlanta should not see any smoke today due to a low fire activity due to rain that is helping with the fires,” the Georgia Forestry Commission said in its report released Thursday.

Downpours throughout North Georgia ended a record 43-day dry streak Tuesday in the metro. Atlanta beat a record for the 2.32 inches of rainfall it got Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The former record for rainfall was set at 1.68 inches in 1914.

MAP: Georgia’s drought and where water restrictions apply

In metro Atlanta, as with counties throughout Georgia, stiff new watering restrictions took effect Nov. 17.

A total fire ban remains in place in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Building or using a fire or campfire is prohibited until moisture in soil and other areas reaches a safe level.

RELATED: Forest fires can be friends as well as foes

Conditions will be evaluated daily to determine when county burning bans will be lifted, Burnett said.

An annual five-day bear and buck hunt is still on in the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area.

Hunting, which runs through Dec. 4, will be restricted due to the Rough Ridge fire.

RELATED: Georgia wildfire won’t stop bear and buck hunt

Tennessee wildfires led to at least seven deaths as officials ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and in other areas near the Smoky Mountains, according to The Associated Press.

RELATED: Death toll rises from Gatlinburg wildfires

Officials said 700 structures in Gatlinburg and nearby areas have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.

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