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Rain nearly extinguishes North Georgia mountain fire

After heavy downpours in the North Georgia mountains and more on the way, a blaze that torched close to 28,000 acres in Fannin County is expected to be fully contained by Wednesday night.

The Rough Ridge fire spans 27,870 acres in the Cohutta Wildnerness area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, said Larisa Bogardus, a spokeswoman for the Rough Ridge fire team.

“We are up to 93 percent containment,” she said.

Bogardus is part of a multi-agency team that includes the U.S. Forest Service and South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership.

Crews on her team continued work Wednesday to remove leaves that might still have smoldering embers and to repair roads damaged by the blaze.

RELATED: Where are the active fires?

Similar work is happening in Rabun County, where the Rock Mountain blaze has torched 24,725 acres about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia. That fire was 55 percent contained Wednesday, and crews included nearly 680 people.

Evacuations that officials and residents have been planning the past few days for an area of 142 homes were lifted Tuesday. Michelle Burnett, a spokeswoman on the Rock Mountain fire team, said she isn’t sure how many homes were actually evacuated.

The fire isn’t expected to be fully contained until sometime in December, according to an Incident Management Situation Report.

Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said although smoke wasn’t visible from the air over large fires Tuesday, she isn’t ready to say rain “completely extinguished any large fires.”

“Rain’s helped and allowed our fire personnel to have a short break,” she said. “However, without continued sufficient amounts and timely rainfall for the next few weeks, we know that drought conditions will continue.”

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

Still, rain is good news.

Calls on wildfires were down from about 56 to 17 Wednesday, with nine fires still active.

One wildfire burned about one acre in north Fulton County on Tuesday before it was quickly extinguished, Wendy Burnett said.

The metro area has avoided the worst of the wildfires and more frequently dealt with poor air quality from smoke, but even that has improved recently.

WEATHER: Tornado watch in effect for parts of North Georgia

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

Downpours throughout North Georgia ended a record 43-day dry streak Tuesday in metro Atlanta.

Metro areas 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.

Areas throughout North Georgia are forecast to pick up even more rain Wednesday, Channel 2 Action News reported.

There is a 90 percent chance of more rain in Rabun County. It is expected to start before 1 p.m., last several hours, then taper off Wednesday night, meteorologists said.

Officials are keeping firefighters in place at least through the next few days. They are waiting for the next rainfall amounts in order to gauge the fire danger moving forward.

RELATED: Forest fires can be friends as well as foes

Following drought-related disaster declarations in 22 Georgia counties, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced loans are available to businesses taking a substantial financial hit due to the drought. Those businesses can apply through June 26, 2017.

Local officials have said the effects of the drought are wide-reaching, and the risk of wildfires is among the most severe. In metro Atlanta, as with counties throughout Georgia, stiff new watering restrictions took effect Nov. 17.

MAP: Georgia’s drought and where water restrictions apply

A total fire ban remains in place in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, but 60 percent of the Wildlife Management Area was open to hunters and other visitors Tuesday.

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

RELATED: Death toll rises to 4 in Tennessee

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said about 100 homes in the Gatlinburg area were damaged or destroyed and the wildfire has set 30 other structures ablaze, including a 16-story hotel.

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