Wildfires creep toward metro Atlanta; smoke seen in Macon

Historic fires in North Georgia that had burned through thousands of acres of land by Monday have been creeping “dangerously close” to metro Atlanta over the past few weeks, fire officials said.

And the smoke could be seen as far south as Macon.

Firefighters have come from as far away as Alaska, California and Arizona to help battle the blazes, according to officials at a command center set up in Blue Ridge.

The air quality reached the unhealthy for all groups range, hitting 174 about 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The wind pulling the smoke back into the area isn't expected to clear out until Thursday, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said.

Authorities took roughly 175 calls about wildfires from Friday to Monday, Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said, but only eight were still active by Monday morning.

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In terms of size, most of the wildfires are much smaller than the largest the state has seen. That designation belongs to a fire that burned more than 115,300 acres in Ware County in 2007.

But the major concern is that flames are getting “dangerously close to the metro Atlanta area,” Burnett said.

She explained that drought conditions continue to worsen, causing many metro Atlanta areas to remain in high fire danger.

However, there were no active wildfires in metro Atlanta counties Monday.

Instead, they were in Dade, Emanuel, Fannin, Gilmer, Oglethorpe, Rabun, Troup, Walker and Whitfield counties, Burnett said.

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The Rough Ridge fire has ripped through more than 20,000 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness area in Fannin County, U.S. Forest Service officials said. It led to a total fire ban in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and smoke drifting into metro Atlanta areas that isn't expected to clear anytime soon.

“This is the worst that we’ve seen in the northwestern part of the state probably in about a decade,” Burnett said.

Efforts to cap flames involved more than 200 people focused on the west and southwest sides of the fire Monday.

Susan Blake, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service, said crews worked along natural barriers, including streams and creeks. Their goal is to prevent the fire from moving westward.

“And that’s a continual job,” she said.

The fire was 20 percent contained Monday, and no one had evacuated the area.

Meanwhile, the Rock Mountain fire in Rabun County led to an order asking that 14 to 20 residences in the area be evacuated.

That fire, about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia, has affected about 5,484 acres, the forest service said Monday.

The Tatum Gulf fire, on the Tennessee/Georgia border in northwest Georgia, threatened 60 homes and also led to evacuations, but all of the homes were saved as of Monday.

The fire, about 120 miles north of Atlanta on Lookout Mountain, was 5 percent contained and spread across about 1,200 acres, fire officials said.