Despite a forecast of rain in the next few days, conditions in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest are very dry and the fire danger is high, forestry officials say.
“If a fire did get started, it would be difficult to maintain and it would take a lot of manpower [to put it out],” said Shawn Alexander, fire prevention team member for the U.S. Forest Service.
The U.S. Forest Service put together a fire prevention team to educate the public on some of the causes of wildfires.
“We’re a team of fire prevention educators,” said Mark Wiles, wildfire prevention specialist for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Wiles said that the Forest Service is a federal organization while the Georgia Forestry Commission is a state organization.
Wiles said that the purpose of the team is to express the importance of being cautious with campfires and other potential wildfire hazards.
The team is composed of U.S. Forest Service and Forestry Commission employees.
“Our task it just to communicate the fire risk in Georgia,” Alexander said.
The Forest Service uses a Keetch-Fobyram Drought Index (KDBI Index) to determine the different categories for the depth of the drought.
The index ranges on a scale from 0-800, with 0 being swamp-like conditions and 800 being desert dry conditions.
The KDBI Index measures moisture in the upper levels of the soil and how likely fuels on top of the ground are to burn.
The level of moisture can be determined by observing limbs, leaves, sticks, and debris on the forest floor, Wiles said.
Alexander said that this area is currently at the 750 marker.
“We’re dryer now than we were in 2016,” Alexander said, referring to the wildfires that devasted the area that year.
Temperatures have been hotter than usual in the late summer going into early Fall, and Alexander said that this has been a factor for drought conditions and fire risk.
He said this is because the extreme heat quickly dries out any moisture that is absorbed into the soil from the little rainfall that does occur.
Wiles said that in these conditions, a fire can easily be started with “a spark in the wrong location and a little wind.”
Alexander said that fire can be caused by campfires, mowing in dry conditions and using mechanical machinery.
He said that dragging trailer chains can cause sparks which could potentially develop into a fire.
Drivers pulling their vehicles over to the side of the road and onto the grass is a fire risk as well because the mechanical components underneath the vehicle are extremely hot and the grass is dried out.
Alexander said that it is best to mow grass in the morning or evening because this is when conditions are at a lower risk of causing fires.
He said that if the grass is damp then it is probably not going to burn.
Tourism is prevalent in Northeast Georgia and campfire safety is paramount in reducing the risk for wildfires, especially when making a campfire.
“We have to make sure those campfires are being watched when they are built,” Wiles said about tourists setting up camp. He said that the fires need to be attended at all times.
Alexander said that debris burning and unattended campfires provide a fire risk, and that debris burning is a significant cause of fire in Georgia.
He said that if the Forestry Service is issuing burn permits then burning is probably okay.
Wiles said that the state of Georgia currently does not have a burn ban, but that some counties are issuing their own burn bans and to check with the closest Forestry Commission office for more information.
An application for burn permits can be found by going to the Georgia Forestry Commission website, http://www.gfc.state.ga.us/online-permits/Index.cfm
Wiles said that it is important to make sure a campfire is 100 percent extinguished before leaving the site.
“If your fire is not “dead out,” wind can rekindle the embers and start a wildfire,” according to a handout from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Wiles said that a campfire can be extinguished by drowning it in water and then stirring the remains. More water should be added until all burned material has been put out.
The person putting out the fire should then put their hand in the middle of the materials and it should not burn them. If it is too hot to touch then it is too hot to leave.
Wiles said that in order to be relieved of the drought, the area needs significant rainfall.
“We need several days of good, soaking rain,” Wiles said. He said that the Forestry Commission is on standby while drought conditions are monitored.