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Northeast Georgia tourism affected by smoke
Situation gets better, worse depending on wind
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The wildfires and accompanying smoke in the Southeast have led to phones ringing all over Northeast Georgia.

People keep calling tourism groups asking how bad the smoke is when deciding whether or not to come to the region. Fortunately for those groups, the outlook has become better within the past week.

Judy Taylor, president of the Habersham County Chamber of Commerce, noted leaf watching is a major attraction in Habersham this time of year and part of the beauty of the mountains is seeing changing colors for great distances. That, of course, changed when smoke blew into the area.

“You could not see as well,” Taylor said.

Jennifer Dennis, information specialist for the Helen Welcome Center, said calls from out-of-town folks asking about the smoke have poured in. She’s also heard of cabin rentals and other accommodations being canceled because of the smoke.

Amanda Rivard, administrative and information specialist with the White County Chamber of Commerce, said campers at Yonah Campground have been frustrated by not being able to have campfires. She has also fielded plenty of calls about the smoke.

David Zunker, tourism director for the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said people in the agency’s visitor center have said they heard on television they shouldn’t travel to the North Georgia mountains.

While Zunker understands the need for caution, he hopes visitors will still make their way to Lumpkin County. He said it only takes a little breeze for the smoke to become a non-issue.

“It’s really dependent on which way the wind is blowing,” Zunker said.

All the groups said they’ve seen a dip in visitors, but as Dennis said of a recent decrease in smoke, “we’ve had some good days.”

Nearly 100 firefighters spent their Thanksgiving holiday mopping up and monitoring the wildfires.

The state forestry commission re-deployed bulldozers and crews to different areas, and firefighters that have been on duty for the past 14 days are being relieved by fresh crews.

Churches in Dade and Gordon counties organized two Thanksgiving dinners for the firefighters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.