Smoky conditions could improve this weekend

Conditions improved in metro Atlanta Friday after a smoky Thursday afternoon.
Smoke from wildfires in north Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee covered much of north Georgia, and in many areas, worsened throughout Thursday.

Skylines were hardly recognizable as the haze covered buildings from Buckhead to north Georgia's mountains. By the end of the day, the air quality index in metro Atlanta was in the unhealthy level.

Friday morning the AQI had decreased to 125, unhealthy for sensitive groups. Pictures from across north Georgia showed a much clearer sky but the smoke started to move back in as the day progressed.

Meteorologist Brad Nitz said a wind shift on Saturday could improve conditions for much of north Georgia, but the smoke will remain in the mountains.

The Rough Ridge Fire in the Cohutta Wilderness area in northwest Georgia continues burning 10,336 acres and is only 20 percent contained.

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Wind and dry weather conditions have contributed to both the spread of the fires and the smoke they are causing.

Nearly 300 personnel are battling the blaze, including nine fire crews, two helicopters, seven engines and two bulldozers.

Many people started to notice the smoke moving into the area Wednesday morning.

“Yesterday and through the early part of this week, that smoke was being blown away. But a cold front came through, winds have turned around to the northwest now, so the smoke is blowing down into and across metro Atlanta and the rest of north Georgia,” Nitz said.

But even after the smoke moves out, metro fire departments are warning that dry conditions will linger. The state forestry commission reports 65 fires since Wednesday around the state.

The danger isn’t just in the mountains. Gwinnett County firefighters told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas that they've responded to 108 woods and grass fires this week alone.

“We are handling many calls related to the smoke and fires,” firefighter Jared Joiner said.

They warned residents not to burn anything outside right now and to watch were you toss cigarettes.

The county has put a 3,000 gallon water tender truck on standby, ready to roll at a moment's notice. The water in the truck can be dumped into a holding tank and then transferred to an engine when fire hydrants aren't close by.

Capt. Tommy Rutledge says fires are spreading quickly, and firefighters are making adjustments to make sure they are prepared. An extra engine was added to the fleet last week to handle grass fires.

"We are sending a number of equipment. Where normally we might send one engine, to off-roads or grass fires, we are sending two or three engines just because of how fast these fires are moving," he said.

“We are in a drought, one of the most severe in several years for sure,” Gov. Nathan Deal said.

Deal told Channel 2 Action News that additional watering and outdoor burning restrictions will likely be put into effect soon.

“Our director of EPD has recommended that we proceed to the level two,” Deal said.

Level two drought restrictions limit outdoor watering to two days a week. Even-numbered addresses are allowed to water on Wednesdays and Saturdays at certain times, and odd-numbered addresses are allowed to water on Thursdays and Sundays during certain times. You also cannot use water for outdoor fountains, car washing or power washing of homes.