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Georgia and Florida: They're smokin'

Federal scientists are using Google Earth to map smoke from big wild fires.

Plotting forest fire smoke
U.S. Forest Service, Google maps

Nashville is hundreds of miles from the nearest forest fires. Recently smoke levels there were 20 times normal. Health officials in the southeastern U.S. can now look at maps showing where the smoke is, and where it's going.

This smoke forecasting is being done by the Center for Forest Disturbance Science in Athens, Ga. Both hourly forecast updates and daily peak values of smoke concentrations are available on the Internet.

The 6-week-old fires have burned a half-million acres. And they're still outta control. These firesare a record for Georgia. That's sparked debate over lack of fire-fighting resources, forest management outsourcing, climate change and the area's worst drought in 50 years. When the flames finally die down, they'll be talking about this one for a long time.