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Rain helps contain north Georgia fires
2PRINT-wet-pavement WEB
Remnants of overnight rain in Forsyth County could be seen on roadways Tuesday morning. It had not rained in the county since Oct. 16. - photo by Jim Dean (previous profile)

Monday night welcomed the first rain in Forsyth County since mid-October, and more is forecasted to fall through Wednesday in northwest and north Georgia.

While some cities in the state have gone 70 days without rainfall, the National Weather Service recorded Cumming was dry from Sunday, Oct. 16, when it saw .03 inches of rain fall. The only other day it rained last month was on Friday, Oct. 7, when .13 inches was recorded.

Monday’s rain set the record for consecutive dry days throughout the state, State Climatologist Bill Murphey said Tuesday. Atlanta went 43 days without rain, breaking a 39-day streak from 1884.

With two days left in the meteorological fall as of Tuesday, the Atlanta area is seeing its sixth-driest fall since 1878 and driest since 1939, Murphey said.

“We had good healthy rainfall totals — over an inch in a big chunk of north Georgia,” he said.

A spanse from Carroll County to Fayette County and Canton saw two inches or more, he said.

Looking ahead, more showers were expected to move in from the west Tuesday night and Wednesday ahead of a cold front. Murphey said an optimistic forecast even showed another “good round” starting late Saturday night through Sunday.

The rain signaled new hope for firefighters combatting some of the largest wildfires burning in the South.

The forecast “puts the bull’s-eye of the greatest amounts right at the bull’s-eye of where we’ve been having our greatest activity,” said Dave Martin, deputy director of operations for fire and aviation management with the southern region of the U.S. Forest Service.

Projected rainfall amounts “really lines up with where we need it,” Martin said Monday. “We’re all knocking on wood.”

As of midday Tuesday, the Rough Ridge and Rock Mountain fires in north Georgia still were scorching more than 24,000 acres each in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

An inch of rain fell on the Rough Ridge fire zone Monday night, “significantly slowing the fire’s progress.”

The 27,870-acre fire was 87 percent contained as of Tuesday at 10 a.m., the U.S. Fire Service Conasauga District said in a news release.
Half of the Rock Mountain fire zone is contained.

But the storms also brought high winds, which toppled dead trees and could pose a threat to firefighters, authorities said. Experts predicted that rains Tuesday from one storm system would not be enough to end the relentless drought that’s spread across several states and provided fuel for the fires.

“As long as the rain continues, we’re in good shape. For right now, the rain will stop fire progression but not put it out. Winds won’t really be an issue until it dries out,” said Shawn Alexander of the Georgia Forestry Commission Coosa District Tuesday.

In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, mandatory evacuations were underway, with about 100 homes having been damaged or destroyed as of Tuesday morning.

After weeks of punishing drought, any rain that falls should be soaked up quickly, forecasters said. It will provide some relief but won’t end the drought — or the fire threat, they said.

Drought conditions will likely persist, authorities said. The problem is that rainfall amounts have been 10 to 15 inches below normal during the past three months in many parts of the South, authorities said.

“I think we racked up deficits that are going to be too much to overcome with just one storm system,” said Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“I would say it’s way too early to say ‘Yes, this drought is over,’” Svoboda said. “Does it put a dent in it? Yes, but we have a long ways to go.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.