Fire in the Mountains
Days of relentless winds require vigilance in March. Spring fires flare up just as ground fuel dries out, and folks decide it’s time to burn away winter’s brittle debris. Although the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) advises against outdoor burning in humidity lower than 35 percent or in winds higher than 10 mph, on Sunday afternoon a few miles toward town from us a burn became of one of Georgia’s more than 3,500 annual wildfires. Quickly contained, it soon turned black on the wildfire map, then marked “mopped up.” This site is informed by the GFC’s dispatch system, FIResponse. Try it at https://georgiafcpublic.firesponse.com
Seeing a helicopter racing above the forests with that enormous water bucket dangling below is a chilling sight—both for the threat level it represents, and the awe we feel watching those bringing the fighting to contain it. These teams have already staunched several big fires this year including a dangerous outbreak on Tray Mountain earlier this month that seared through ten acres on its way up. How was the weather? This happened on a Class 5 Fire Danger Day—the highest warning level.
Fires always sprint for the ridgetops, even without wind. A small gust, a moment of inattention, a hose too short—lots of factors can lead to disaster for many people and so much property. Towns County communities embraced the FireWise program over ten years ago and those measures are lifesavers.
At www.firewise.org, the home ignition zones are described in detail. “Homeowners are advised to move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.”
Within five to thirty feet from the furthest exterior point of the home’s landscaping/hardscaping, they suggest: clearing vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks; creating fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks; keeping lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches; removing ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns; and pruning trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height. Further advice on the site explains additional zones and recommendations.
Our GFC’s burning guidelines emphasize: observing safe weather conditions; keeping 25 feet between your fire and woodlands; 50 feet between the fire and structures; burning during daylight hours only; continuously tending the fire until completely extinguished; and a long-enough pressurized water-hose, a shovel and rake ready to manage the fire. And never, ever use flammable liquids to start a fire. [That stunt may have its own YouTube horror channel.] When burning that yard debris, start downwind with a small pile, adding to it as it burns down—then douse the site thoroughly. I’d like to add a reminder here, fires are sneaky. Make sure those embers aren’t just playing dead.
Last July the burn permitting laws in Georgia changed and residents are no longer required to secure permits for backyard burning—described in GA Senate Bill 119, GA code section 12-6-90 as “hand-piled natural debris.” Most burn projects, including agricultural, or land clearing for commercial and residential burns still require permits, so be sure to check with your area Ranger or local agency. Laws still prevent burning household garbage and man-made waste products, as well as moving material from one location to another for burning; and seasonal local burn bans may be in effect. Check GaTrees.org for info.
With this warm weather trees will be greening soon, chasing fire season away for a few months. Winds have dropped today, and rain is expected in the early hours Thursday morning. Hope for a soaking!
DAILY FIRE RATING DANGER http://weather.gfc.state.ga.us/Maps/fd.gif
CURRENT FIRE DANGER RATING http://weather.gfc.state.ga.us/Current2/GARAWS-OUT.aspx
COUNTY CHIEF RANGER Fannin/Towns/Union
1556 Pat Colwell Rd Blairsville GA 30512
COUNTY CHIEF RANGER Gilmer/
25 Ellington Rd. Ellijay GA 30540
COUNTY CHIEF RANGER Lumpkin/
159 Crown Mountain Dr. Dahlonega 30533
COUNTY CHIEF RANGER Rabun/
3997 Toccoa Highway Clarksville GA 30523