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Officials hope rain will extinguish Cheaha fire

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Smoke is visible in this current image of the Cheaha State Park region.

Strong winds that blew through northeast Alabama Friday night may have downed a power line, possibly started a fire that as of Sunday had consumed at least 300-plus acres on Mt. Cheaha.

However, two fires started Friday night or early on Saturday morning, according to Greg Lien, the assistant director for all Alabama state parks. The information he gave was around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

The fire on the west side of the mountain is the biggest concern to park officials. It is the closest to the cabins where visitors were staying. All those who were renting cabins were evacuated, but Lien was unsure how many people the evacuation involved.

“We will work with those who were evacuated the best we can,” Lien said, adding that most were to check out by Monday.

Lien said a smaller fire on the southeastern side of the mountain also started in the Shinbone area, and he would not speculate about how it started.

He estimated that about 50 firefighters and other officials from the United States Forest Service were involved in fighting the fire. The firefighters are utilizing helicopters to draw up water from Cheaha Lake that sits at the foot of the mountain beneath the Vista Cliffside restaurant, which previously closed for several reasons. The water from the lake is being dumped onto the fire.

Both federal employees and locals were joining in the efforts to fight the fire. The federal employees are on standby to fight any fires related to the Talladega National Forest, which surrounds Mt. Cheaha, a state park.

“Our hope is that tonight’s rain will take care of this problem,” Lien said.

A map of the National Weather Service projects that the Calhoun-Cleburne area has a 55 to 75 percent chance of rain tonight, which is expected to begin about 8 p.m. and last until early Monday morning. (Rain did start falling during the 10 o'clock hour in Anniston Sunday night. It was better than just a drizzle.)

All roads entering Cheaha State Park are closed. As of Sunday, no structures had been lost.