BIRMINGHAM, AL (AP) - A drought that threatened crops and helped spark wildfires across the South is showing the first real improvement in weeks.

A new assessment from the National Drought Mitigation Center says more than a quarter of the Southeast was drought-free on Thursday.

That's an improvement of more than 10 percentage points in a week, and forecasters say heavy rain could inundate the region this weekend.

More than 25 million people are still affected by arid conditions in the Southeast, with much of eastern Alabama, northern Georgia and western South Carolina far too dry. Millions more are living in drought-plagued areas in Texas and the Southwest.

Alabama lifted a statewide fire alert this week and high schools in several states are rescheduling Friday night football games because of the rainy forecast.

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