Rain over the North Georgia mountains Wednesday night came with both positive and negative effects for wildfires that have torched thousands of acres and threatened home evacuations.
While the weather delayed efforts to push back the perimeter of one quickly growing wildfire, it helped firefighting efforts in another.
Cooler temperatures and up to a quarter of an inch of rain in some areas helped the efforts in Fannin County.
The Rough Ridge fire spans the same 27,870 acres it did earlier this week, and containment increased from 59 percent to 75 percent Friday in the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest — both good signs — the U.S. Forest Service reported.
Containment will probably be at more than 80 percent by Friday evening, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Corelli said.
People working the fire decreased from more than 200 to 190 by Friday.
“We’ll drastically drop our numbers here over the weekend,” Corelli said.
The blaze is expected to be completely contained by Nov. 30, unlike a fire in Rabun County expected to burn well into December.
That fire at Rock Mountain, the second-largest active wildfire in Georgia, continued to spread earlier this week. Damp weather conditions prevented officials from getting an accurate reading on acres burned Friday, the U.S. Forest Service reported.
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The blaze spanned 18,069 acres Wednesday about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia and was 35 percent contained. It isn’t expected to be fully contained until Dec. 15, officials said.
Before that happens, the fire could increase to 30,000 acres, federal officials said Monday during a packed public briefing.
Rain in the area Wednesday delayed efforts to decrease the intensity of the fire, so crews prepared Friday to light smaller fires and burn out fuel such as vegetation and leaves before the larger blaze could spread.
They plan to focus on the southeastern perimeter and north end of the fire from Chestnut Ridge to Indian Springs on Friday afternoon if fields are dry enough.
“Without proper fuel consumption, the potential for re-burn is high as winds increase and vegetation dries,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an update Friday.
The Forest Service issued pre-evacuations in the area, which spokeswoman Shannon O’Brien said is “sort of the get-ready, get-set phase, but not the go.”
“The intent is that that will continue,” she said.
O’Brien said she didn’t know how many homes might need to be evacuated. The Forest Service last reported there were 142 homes in the evacuation area near Bettys Creek and Patterson Gap roads.
Crews included 567 people Friday, an increase from the roughly 467 who worked earlier this week. They used seven helicopters, four water tankers and four bulldozers and nearly doubled the number of fire engines used from 24 to 40.
The Rock Mountain fire, one of more than 4,370 blazes this year in Georgia, is hardly the largest the state has seen. That designation belongs to a fire that burned more than 115,300 acres in Ware County in 2007.
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Authorities took about 72 wildfire calls Tuesday, and 12 were still active Wednesday, but most were fully contained, officials said. It was immediately unclear how many fires were active Friday.
Rita Baysinger, who came from Colorado to help the Forest Service as a spokeswoman, said finding crews to help fight fires has taken time because the fire season didn’t end until October for western states.
The ongoing fires have exhausted resources and required assistance from agencies including the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Corrections, Georgia State Patrol and local fire and law enforcement departments.
One person died and one was injured in a fire in Greene County, Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said. 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. That person’s condition was not known.
No firefighters were injured in either blaze.
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.
The metro area has avoided the worst of the wildfires and more frequently dealt with smoke and poor air quality. It’s been more than a month without rain, and Atlanta is poised to break a 132-year-old record for the dry spell Friday.
Despite a slight rain chance overnight Wednesday, Atlanta recorded 39 consecutive days without measurable rainfall Thursday, according to Channel 2 Action News. That means the city tied a record set in 1884.
Don’t expect a significant rain chance until next week. There is a 10 percent chance of rain Monday and a 60 percent chance Tuesday.
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