ATLANTA – Wildfires near the Georgia-North Carolina line are spewing smoke so thick that residents are being urged to wear special masks if they must do outdoor activities.
The fires – many of them suspected arsons – have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee in recent days.
The largest of dozens of ongoing wildfires in the South has now burned 13,300 acres, more than a third of the vast Cohutta Wilderness area, in the north Georgia mountains just south of the Tennessee line.
Fire managers said Saturday that the blaze, believed to have ignited from a lightning strike in mid-October, was only 20 percent contained.
In Macon County, North Carolina, special health masks were being made available Saturday. Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said they’re distributing N95-rated masks as regular surgical masks don’t provide adequate protection from smoke particles.
And yet, the drifting smoke that prompted air quality authorities to declare a Code Orange on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, cleared enough for Saturday’s Charlotte Marathon to be run as planned under crisp blue skies.
Smoke has settled over Clayton, Georgia and surrounding Rabun County, where fires including a 2,000-acre blaze has forced people from their homes. That fire is a suspected arson blaze, and the sheriff has asked residents to be on the lookout for a dark blue SUV seen in the area where the fire started on Wednesday.
In Tennessee, 42 of the 58 active wildfires in the state are suspected arsons – or about 72 percent of them – the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported Saturday in its wildfire situation update.
In North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, more than 20 wildfires have burned more than 17,000 acres and all of them are “being investigated for suspected arson,” federal forestry officials have said.
The federal government has approved a request for money to fight the blazes in western North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory said. A grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will now pay 75 percent of the emergency protective measures taken in fighting the fires, McCrory said in a news release Saturday.
In South Carolina, the Easley Fire Department is asking residents to donate water, Gatorade and other drinks to help firefighters battling a wildfire on Pinnacle Mountain.
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