1 injured near blaze; crews 'stretched thin' battling North Georgia wildfires

A helicopter works dropping water on the Rock Mountain Fire as it approaches homes on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, in Tate City. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

A helicopter works dropping water on the Rock Mountain Fire as it approaches homes on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, in Tate City. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

A Department of Natural Resources technician was injured Thursday during a utility terrain vehicle accident near the site of a wildfire in North Georgia, officials said.

The woman, whose name was not released, was helping battle a blaze near Johnson Mountain in Bartow County when she was thrown from the vehicle, DNR spokeswoman Robin Hill said.

The woman has several minor spine fractures but "every indication is that she will be fine," Hill said.

The injury highlights the difficulties crews face while battling a rash of wildfires that have broken out over the past couple of weeks due to drought conditions and no rain for more than a month.

"If we feel that we get stretched too thin, we can call on other state forestry agencies to send people and/or equipment," Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said.

The DNR, Department of Corrections, Georgia State Patrol and local fire and law enforcement departments have assisted with the fires.

"With the support of our partners ... we are OK," Burnett said.

As you might imagine, the recent fires have led to increased spending in Georgia.

The cost to fight them has increased more than seven times in one year as Georgia experiences historically dry conditions. Since July, the state spent $2.6 million on fighting fires, up from $354,000 during the same period last year, Burnett said.

"Keep in mind that last year we had gotten a lot of rain, so our spending was low," Burnett said. "So basically we’ve gone from one extreme to the other."

Last year, Georgia had 570 wildfires, which was the lowest number in 60 years, Burnett said.

There have been more than 2,400 this year.

Authorities have taken roughly 272 calls about wildfires since Friday, Burnett said. About 13 of those were still active Thursday.

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The largest active fire, in Rough Ridge, has burned about 24,765 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Fannin County, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Brian Grant said.

More than 190 people were working to contain the blaze Thursday, and they used two helicopters, eight engines and two bulldozers. The Rough Ridge fire is 40 percent contained.

Grant said the most difficult part about fighting the fire is the rough and varied terrain.

“The perimeter of the fire is doing really well,” Grant said. “It’s nice and cold.”

He said he expects flames to burn for some time.

There are positive aspects to the burning, Grant said. It cleans the forest and allows animals to migrate easier. That cleaning will also stimulate growth to give animals new food, Grant said.

RELATED: More photos from North Georgia

The smaller Rock Mountain blaze, spanning 8,545 acres about 10 miles north of Clayton in northeast Georgia, was 20 percent contained Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

Clayton: Firefighters from Billings, Montana, work to clear weakened trees and debris in the Rock Mountain Fire along the Old Coleman River Road to keep the road open and prevent the fire from jumping the road on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, near Clayton. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Both the Rough Ridge and Rock Mountain fires are 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.

RELATED: See which Atlanta neighborhoods have been affected most by the wildfire smoke

A new blaze, a woods/grass fire off a roadway in Dacula, was reported Wednesday afternoon. There were no injuries and no immediate exposure hazards identified, officials said.

Fire restrictions banning open air fires, smoking, fire pits, grills and rings kicked in Thursday along the Appalachian National Scene Trail. The trail begins in Springer Mountain in Fannin County and stretches 78.6 miles through North Georgia.

Dry conditions prompted the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to announce the restrictions Wednesday. They extend to parts of the trail in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Those states have experienced dry conditions, wildfires and burn bans, too.

“These restrictions will better provide for public safety,” Appalachian Trail Conservancy spokesman Jordan Bowman said in a news release. “The southern half of the A.T. and surrounding lands are significantly dry and the potential for wildland fires is high.”

The restrictions will remain until significant rain or snow cover the area, Bowman said.

RELATED: Map: Georgia's drought and where water restrictions apply

The recent wildfires have exhausted resources and required assistance from other agencies. At least 27 inmates from five different prisons were deployed to the Lookout Highlands subdivision in Dade County to help clear combustible materials around evacuated homes, according to WTVC-TV in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cherokee and Forsyth county officials said their firefighters recently relieved Dade County crews, too. Towns County officials called Smyrna Fire Department for help battling Hiawassee area flames. The crews will be on 24-hours shifts  for at least four days and firefighters and engines will be rotated for relief.

Cobb County officials sent a reminder Thursday that a temporary ban on all outdoor burning has been in effect since Oct. 28.

“The ban is expected to be lifted when significant rainfall is received and notification will be sent out when burning may resume,” Cobb fire spokeswoman Denell Boyd said.

For the first time in more than 50 years, metro Atlanta went 30 consecutive days without rain this week. That has happened only three other times: 1904, 1952 and 1961, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton said.

Thursday was the 32nd day without measurable rainfall, the television station reported.

Metro Atlanta has avoided the worst of the wildfires, but the most frequent impact from the fires has been smoke in the air and poor air quality.

Multiple districts across the state are keeping students indoors. Cherokee schools moved outdoor activities inside. Principals in Cobb and Gwinnett have been asked to use their best judgment about when to keep students inside. Fannin schools canceled outdoor recess. Jackson schools canceled some outdoor activities, and Hall limited outdoor activities to mornings, Channel 2 reported.

RELATED: Smoke to clear, but it will be back

There is a 10 percent chance of rain Saturday, when smoke could return to metro Atlanta.