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Smoke from fires could be part of residents travel path
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A weathervane sits on top of a barn over a wildfire near Dillard, Ga., Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. - photo by Curtis Compton

While some relief has come locally from smoke associated with wildfires in recent days, holiday travels northward could put some Hall County residents closer to fires and smoke in the coming days.

Wendy Burnett, spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission, said the potential for rain Wednesday night could make conditions more favorable. Much of Northeast Georgia has a 30-40 percent chance of rain.

Burnett said the precipitation would “help knock some of the smoke off” and make travel better for a couple of days, but “we expect it to dry back out very quickly.” She said a decrease in the fires is not expected in the near future.

When confronted with smoky conditions, motorists should “drive very slowly and with your lights on,” Burnett said.

Some roads and other places in the Cohutta Wilderness near the Tennessee line are closed as firefighters battle the Rough Ridge Fire, which covers 27,870 acres and was 59 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Rock Mountain Fire in Rabun and Towns counties in Georgia and Clay and Macon counties in North Carolina covers 14,757 acres and was 30 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Katie Strickland, district spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, suggested drivers plan their route before getting in the car and visit 511ga.com to check for any incidents along their route.

Strickland also advised using low-beam headlights or fog lights and turning the car’s air conditioning to recycle “so you don’t pull smoke into the car.”

Justin Upchurch, assistant chief for the Rabun County Fire Department, said drivers should seek to stay out of the way of firefighters working scenes.

He added that smoke comes and goes depending on the wind direction.

“Drive carefully,” Upchurch said. “Realize that conditions can change quickly.”

There are 44 uncontained large fires in the South, covering a total of more than 120,000 acres, national fire officials said Tuesday.

Arson investigations are underway in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky.

In Tennessee, firefighters have responded to 27 new fires since Friday, and 19 of them are suspected arsons, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported. Most of those recent blazes are relatively small, the largest being a 452-acre wildfire northwest of Knoxville.

In recent days, high winds and falling leaves have been among the toughest challenges firefighters have faced, authorities say.

“Leaves are the biggest concern for firefighters as the unseasonably late leaf fall continues to spread fresh fuel upon the fire,” fire managers said in a Tuesday update on one of the South’s largest wildfires, the nearly 14,000-acre Tellico Fire in western North Carolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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