Fall colors are now at full beauty in North Georgia where a drought has encouraged wild fires to burn for weeks. With fall tourism ramping up, the fires could have an effect on visitors this year.
The United States Forestry Service battled 13 fires on Thursday alone. The biggest is in the Cohutta Wilderness and has burned 3,000 acres so far. The fire began in mid-October, likely by a stray lightning strike.
Andrea Cain with the forestry service said right now it's too early to tell if tourism will be affected.
"We're going into the weekend and it's the first time that we could see the effect," she said.
The hotels are being filled with firefighters, there are more vehicles on the roads and there is smoke in the air in some places.
Diane Arnold is the office manager for the Chatsworth-Eton-Murray County Chamber of Commerce and said tourists come to her area for one main reason
"They are wanting to see the colors because we have such beautiful foliage here,"
But the drought is affecting the leaves. "Because it's so dry, some of the leaves have already fallen off," she said.
Arnold said she has not seen anything like this before, adding "This is the driest that it's been in our history."
At Fort Mountain State Park, campers are still free to set fires as long as the fire stays in the fire rings. The only places under a burn ban are the four backcountry camp sites.
Erika Ray with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at Fort Mountain State Park said the smoke is "not as bad and what it was" earlier this week. She said it was a lot worst Monday and Tuesday.
Ray said they do not think tourists will shy away.
"People are calling asking how it's doing...saying that they're still on the way," she said.
The Georgia Forestry Commission anticipates that the drought conditions will continue for a few weeks due to a lack of rain.
"Georgia Forestry Crews are working hard to mop up and monitor existing fires, and are prepared for the potential fire danger this weekend. We are predicting strong sustained winds of 10-20 mph in many areas. Gusty winds on top of the sustained winds will make fighting a fire even more challenging. In addition to the sustained wind predictions, the humidity is dropping due to the cold front coming into the area drawing out any bit of humidity that might be left," Ranger Pat Stockett with the Georgia Forestry Commission said.
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