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Rain slows wildfires in the North Georgia mountains


About an inch of rain in far North Georgia significantly slowed the spread of Georgia’s largest wildfire Tuesday.

But that doesn’t mean fire woes are over just yet.

“Larger fuels, like down logs, standing dead trees and stumps or root systems, continue to hold heat and, as the weather dries, can re-ignite leaves,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an update Tuesday.

Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said high winds also act as accelerates to wildfires, “giving them what they need to move faster and burn hotter.”

Drought conditions in North Georgia are so severe, even with some relief from the rain “we could be right back where we are today within a few days or a week,” Burnett said Monday.

“We do not want anyone to think we are out of the woods with fire danger if we get just a little rain this week,” she said.

Authorities took about 112 wildfire calls from Friday to Sunday, and eight were still active Monday. There were seven in metro Atlanta, each burning less than five acres and all contained by Monday, Burnett said.

RELATED: Where are the active fires?

It was immediately unclear how many blazes remained active Tuesday.

The Rough Ridge fire spanned 27,870 Monday and containment increased from 75 percent to 87 percent in the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest — both good signs — the U.S. Forest Service reported.

Weather conditions prevented officials from estimating the sizes of fires throughout the North Georgia mountains Tuesday morning.

MORE PHOTOS: Scenes from North Georgia

Larisa Bogardus, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Rough Ridge team, said rain in the area “helped tremendously,” but crews still worked to remove leaves that might still have smoldering embers and repair roads damaged by the blaze.

Showers are expected to continue through Wednesday when officials estimate the Rough Ridge fire will be fully contained.

A fire in Rabun County is expected to burn well into December, according to an Incident Management Situation Report Tuesday.

The Rock Mountain blaze spanned 24,725 acres Monday about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia and was 50 percent contained.

No evacuations have been ordered in the area, but 142 homes near Bettys Creek and Patterson Gap roads remain on standby.

RELATED: North Georgia crews fighting monotony along with wildfires

By Monday, crews finished efforts to light smaller fires and burn out fuel such as vegetation and leaves before the larger blaze could spread.

“Right now we’ve put all the fire on the ground that we’re going to put on the ground,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tom Stokesberry said.

Up from 650 workers, 668 people worked to help contain the Rock Mountain fire Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Servvice reported.

Crews used five helicopters, four water tankers, three bulldozers and 53 fire engines.

Officials worried for the safety of firefighters said they don’t plan to move the fire’s perimeters Tuesday.

Trees weakened by insects and fire are more likely to be uprooted when the soil is wet.

“Fire-weakened trees can fall unexpectedly and there are documented cases where these trees, also known as ‘snags,’ have caused serious injury or death,” the U.S. Forest Service said.

In an incident unrelated to recent rain, one person died and one was injured in a fire in Greene County, Burnett said last Wednesday. She said she didn’t know the name of the victim or the condition of the person injured in the blaze.

In another fire in Meriwether County, a landowner accused of illegally burning materials was critically injured, Burnett said last Wednesday. That person’s condition was not known.

No firefighters were injured in either blaze.

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 November 17.

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

MAP: Georgia’s drought and where water restrictions apply

The metro area has avoided the worst of the wildfires and more frequently dealt with smoke and poor air quality.

North of Georgia, wildfires in Tennessee led officials to order evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas near the Smoky Mountains, according to The Associated Press.

RELATED: Dollywood, other Tennessee tourist destinations evacuated due to wildfires

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

RELATED: The Latest: Officials say about 100 homes damaged by fire


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