Smoke stokes fear of second burning of Atlanta

The smoke’s so thick in my back yard Civil War reenactors think Atlanta is burning all over again.

A haze hovers over the downtown skyline from a wildfire burning in the Northwest part of the state, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Atlanta. Fires, many of them suspected arsons, have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee recently. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A haze hovers over the downtown skyline from a wildfire burning in the Northwest part of the state, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Atlanta. Fires, many of them suspected arsons, have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee recently. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

I figured the haze wasn’t going to clear when my BBQ enthusiast neighbor eschewed use of his Big Green Egg and simply left a rack of ribs to smoke on his back porch overnight.

As your lungs have already told you, Atlanta is under a code red smog alert, which means it is unhealthy for anyone to breathe outdoors. I’ve done a lot of things that, in retrospect, seem counter-intuitive, but not breathing to preserve one’s health is now atop the list.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the fire creating the smoke making us hold our breath is north of Atlanta in Fannin County.

Due to “exceptional drought” conditions the so-called “Rough Ridge fire” burning inside the Cohutta Wilderness area of the Chattahoochee National Forest keep growing. The U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday the fire has burned about 21,500 acres and is only 20 percent contained.

Smoke is expected to remain a problem in Atlanta through Thursday. Rain is not expected anytime soon.

But the Fannin flame isn’t the only one that can smoke us out.

Wendy Burnett, spokesperson for the Georgia Forestry Commission, says dozens of wildfires have sprung up all over the state.

“There’s fires north of Atlanta and south of Atlanta,” she said, and if the wind shifts smoke from fires in North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama might find us.

The closest fires to Atlanta thus far have been in Cherokee County, said Burnett, but those were quickly extinguished.

Currently, the Georgia Forestry Commission has about 200 folks out battling blazes. The U.S. Forest Service has another 200 in Fannin County.

The Rough Ridge conflagration is thought to have been started by lightning, but most wildfires were accidentally started by humans said Burnett, who listed unattended campfires, hot car mufflers and sparks from lawn mower blades hitting rocks as the origin of our flaming forests.

Could a wildfire reach Atlanta?

It’s unlikely those in the city center will have General Sherman flashbacks, but “conditions are favorable” in the suburbs.

Burnett said those in the most danger are in the “wildland-urban interface,” aka neighborhoods that back up to forests.

Even more likely to catch fire are neighborhoods celebrating the drought with small explosives.

For this reason, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has banned fireworks in more than 100 Georgia drought-stricken counties, including Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry.

If you live in southeast Georgia and recently encountered a hurricane you are cleared to light a fuse.

What north Georgia needs is a really good thunderstorm.

Back in 2007, the drought parched the state so badly Lake Lanier resembled a puddle. Gov. Sonny Perdue prayed for rain at the state Capitol the day before weather prognosticators predicted precipitation and Georgia’s prayers were answered.

On Halloween this year, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a former Baptist minister, and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black prayed for rain with farmers in Lavonia.

I’m not sure it has rained since.

My advice? Before praying for rain, check the forecast. And stay indoors.


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