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Atlantic's first named storm whips up wildfires

Story Highlights

• Drought contributes to wildfires in Georgia and Florida
• Subtropical Storm Andrea forms off Southeast U.S. coast
• Atlantic hurricane season's official start three-plus weeks away
• First named storm has sustained winds near 40 mph
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(CNN) -- Winds from the first named storm of the year fanned wildfires in Georgia and northern Florida on Wednesday, more than three weeks ahead of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Subtropical Storm Andrea, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and higher gusts, was centered about 135 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia, and about 100 miles northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida, as of 5 a.m. ET on Thursday, forecasters said.

Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 105 miles from its center, mainly to the east. (Watch drought take toll on Florida's watershed, homeowners Video)

Forecasters had described Andrea as "meandering" throughout the day, but late Wednesday said it was nearly stationary and that no significant motion was expected in the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm watch was issued for the Southeastern U.S. coast from Georgia's Altamaha Sound south to Flagler Beach, Florida, the weather service said.

A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours.

A previous forecast warned of dangerous surf conditions along the coasts of North and South Carolina as well as Georgia and northeastern Florida.

The storm is expected to bring a total of 1-2 inches of rain along the coast, with isolated maximum amounts of about 3 inches in some rainbands, forecasters said.

Rain will be welcomed in southern Georgia and northern Florida, where drought conditions have contributed to wildfires. In fact, Andrea's winds were making things worse Wednesday.

"Our forestry firefighters think they have [one fire] contained, and then these winds blow an ember a mile away and start a fire over there," said Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who declared a state of emergency in the state May 3 because of the drought and wildfire danger, deployed the National Guard to help contain the blazes.

Wednesday, he traveled to several areas where 220 wildfires are burning 80,000 acres (32,370 hectares), hoping for Andrea to bring much-needed rain.

"I just hope it's wet. I want it to be wet, and I want it to come in here. I want it to come in as soon as it can," he said.

Fires are burning in 54 of the drought-ravaged state's 67 counties. Florida officials issued recommendations on Wednesday advising residents to stay indoors whenever possible to avoid the smoke drifting across the state.

Since the beginning of the year, 2,139 fires have burned more than 195,000 acres (78,900 hectares) in Florida, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Web site.

In south Georgia, more than 156,000 acres (63,000 hectares) have burned in four counties.

The biggest fire, in Ware and Charlton counties, began April 16 when a power line went down. Schools were closed Wednesday in Charlton County.

Mandatory evacuations have been issued for about 300 homes in the town of Moniac and 20 homes in Davis.

Arson investigators were still looking for a black, extended-cab, late-90s Chevrolet pickup truck driven by an arson witness, officials said.

Subtropical storms differ from tropical storms in some technical characteristics relating to wind and temperature, according to the National Hurricane Center's Web site.

Hurricane season begins June 1.


story.andrea.nasa.jpg

Subtropical Storm Andrea swirls Wednesday off the coast of Georgia in this satellite image.

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