• A helicopter flies above Rabun County Middle School on its way to the Rock Mountain Fire in the Persimmon area on Friday. (Klark Byrd/The Clayton Tribune)
    Helicopter flight
  • This U.S. Forest Service map shows the boundaries of the Rock Mountain Fire and where areas of heat are concentrated. Shifting winds are a concern for firefighters as more pre-evacuation notices are issued.
    Infrared Map
  • Downed trees in the Rock Mountain Fire such as this one burning along Tallulah River Road are of concern to firefighters as winds are expected to shift. Incident commanders have warned that fire lines will be tested. (Klark Byrd/The Clayton Tribune)
    Embers burning
  • The current Drought Level 1 and Level 2 map of Georgia.
    Drought Levels

Pre-evacuation notices up for Patterson Gap, parts of Betty’s Creek Road

UPDATE, 5:10 p.m. Sunday: The Rabun County Board of Commissioners, Rabun County EMA and U.S. Forest Service will be hosting a second community meeting in the Rabun County Courthouse on Monday at 6 p.m. The meeting will provide attendees an update on the current fire situation in the county.

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UPDATE, 10 a.m. Sunday: The Rock Mountain Fire has grown to 11,287 acres, according to the latest information from the U.S. Forest Service. It remains 30 percent contained.

There are 498 people across 14 crews with 21 engines, three bulldozers, four water tenders, one tractor plow and five helicopters working on the fire.

Winds on Saturday reached 36 mph in some place while humidity remained low. That was cause for a red flag warning, which continues today.     

"On the north end of the fire wind pushed a small area (less than 5 acres) past the Appalachian trail to the north. Once it burned over the hill, the wind held pushed it back on itself, preventing further spread at that location," the Forest Service update stated. "County and rural fire departments provided structure protection at Tate City. Leaves blowing onto heat sources such as burned stumps or root wads started to re-burn within the fire perimeter. Efforts to establish and re-clear trails were hindered by winds blowing leaves in behind firefighters. Helicopters helped to keep fire spread in check as conditions allowed."

For today, firefighters plan to hold existing lines as wind gusts of 25-30 mph are expected. 

There has been no change since Saturday on the evacuation and pre-evacuation zones.

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UPDATE, 5:35 p.m. Saturday: The U.S. Forest Service says today's winds pushed a small 20-30 acre spot of fire past the northern containment line and across the Appalachian Trail, however, the fire is not spreading or growing too fast. Operations by air are limited because of the strong winds, so firefighters are looking at options as they continue to fight the Rock Mountain Fire. 

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UPDATE, 11 a.m. Saturday: The U.S. Forest Service says the Rock Mountain Fire has grown to 10,425 acres. The fire as of 10:45 a.m. was 30 percent contained.

According to the Forest Service, containment lines held overnight as crews patrolled to maintain them. 

"There was a lot of activity around Tate City as crews worked in close coordination with local resources to successfully burnout between containment lines on the slopes above Tate City and the fire's edge," the update stated. "On the northeast flank of the fire, firefighters continued building and maintaining fireline, tying in to the Appalachian trail, while scouting for opportunities for contingency lines in front of the fire."

The Forest Service was able to use its full complement of helicopters and aircraft Friday, flying for as long as they could.

Today's weather is expected to test fire lines as winds gust up to 30 mph. A red flag warning for wind is up from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Forest Service reminds residents of how quickly a new fire can spread and warns against any burning. Burn bans remain in place.

Yesterday's pre-evacuation zones remain unchanged, as do road closures. An evacuation notice is in effect for residents in Clay County, North Carolina, north of Tate City in the Dream Catcher Cove Area.

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UPDATE, 8:53 a.m.: There is no update from last night, except that smoky conditions are expected as winds come from the northwest. Fire lines held overnight and will be tested as winds change.

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UPDATE, 5:40 p.m. Friday: The Rabun County Emergency Management Agency has lifted the pre-evacuation order for residents in the Plum Orchard community, as well for residents along Nichols Branch Road and Coleman River Road in the Rock Mountain Fire area. 

"The progress made on the south side of the Rock Mountain Fire has reduced the risk of fire spreading into the populated areas adjacent to those roads. The pre-evacuation order is removed effective 5 p.m. today, Friday, Nov. 18," stated a EMA Facebook post. "Residents are advised that they may continue to see smoke coming from the interior of the fire. If fire is observed outside the established perimeter of the fire, it should be reported via a 911 call."

A countywide burn ban remains in place. 

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UPDATE, 1:40 p.m. Friday: According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Rock Mountain Fire has burned 8,545 acres and is 30 percent contained. The Timber Ridge Fire has burned 888 acres and is now 50 percent contained. Fire activity in the Timber Ridge Fire is minimal, according to the latest report. 

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UPDATE, 12:40 p.m. Friday: The U.S. Forest Service says a fire line from Coleman River to the Appalachia Trail was successfully prepared. A containment line from Able Gap south down Coleman River Road to Persimmon Road and from Persimmon at Plum Orchard to Upper Hightower back to the Tallulah River is complete.

Crews and dozers will continue to work on a two-mile segment of fireline to complete burnout on the slope above Tate City while the Towns County Fire Department will continue protecting homes. As the Rock Mountain Fire has reached the Nantahala Wilderness in North Carolina, firefighters will be scouting opportunities to get ahead of it.

"Firefighters and residents are reminded to be aware of the hazard of falling trees and snags. Even trees that don't show visible evidence of having burned have weakened root systems," an update stated.

Aircraft and helicopters will continue providing support as visibility allows. 

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UPDATE, 11:45 a.m. Friday: The U.S. Forest Service has updated its statistics on the Rock Mountain Fire. At 11:40 a.m., the fire was 30 percent contained after burning 8,545 acres. The total crew compliment fighting the fire has increased to 559 people.

The fire is expected to continue spreading at about 1/2 mile a day, up to 3/4 mile in open/uncontained areas as winds shift to come from the northwest, with sustained speeds of 15-20 mph and gusts up to 30 mph during the weekend. A cold front on the way is not expected to bring any moisture. 

See story below for additional pre-evacuation notices issued this morning.

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ORIGINAL STORY, 9:39 a.m. Friday: U.S. Forest Service firefighters have contained much of the Rock Mountain Fire along its south edge as winds have been from the southwest. But those winds are expected to shift tonight through Saturday, prompting county officials to issue pre-evacuation notices for Patterson Gap and parts of Betty’s Creek Road.

In a morning update post on Facebook, the Rabun County Emergency Management Agency said winds will come from the northwest as the fire continues to spread northeast.

“Due to this change and how far the fire has spread to the Northeast, we are going to issue a pre-evacuation notice for Patterson Gap north of Camp Ramah Darom. Also, all roads on Betty’s Creek Road, north of Tom Wilson to the North Carolina state line,” the post stated.

Roads affected by the pre-evacuation notice include: Patterson Gap, Kodiak, Hap N So Lane, Tarheel Lane, Betty's Creek, Tom Wilson, Byes Lane, High Darnell Rd, Almond Lane, Outback Lane, Hambidge Ct, Messer Creek Rd, Scottarosa Lane, Sassafras Lane, Willow Lane, Red Bird Lane, Asa Cove Lane, Barkers Creek Lane, Big Creek Rd, Andy's Trout Farm lane, Hazel Lane, Mimosa Lane, Bob Justice Lane and Magnolia Lane.

Residents in those areas are advised to blow leaves away from their homes, remove all dead limbs in their yards, clean out gutters and cut all limbs touching their house. They are also advised to have an evacuation plan and phone plan in place.

The pre-evacuation notice is the latest in the fight against the Rock Mountain Fire. Previous notices still in place include residents in the Plum Orchard community along Cat Gap Road, residents along Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch and for residents of Tate City.

Firefighters also continue to watch the Timber Ridge Fire and Burrells Ford Fire, both of which were 100 percent contained this morning. The shift in winds have prompted firefighters to redouble their efforts in monitoring containment lines as concerns that falling trees and blowing leaves could spark the fires back to life.

The Clayton Tribune

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