(BRYAN COUNTY) Hurricane Matthew may be gone but it could still have a major impact on the upcoming wildfire season in the Coastal Empire. A hint of the potential for bigger forest fires, due to storm debris, materialized in southern Chatham County this week. David Duke, a Forest Ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission, says more than a half-dozen fires along a railroad track in Georgetown on Tuesday were fueled by storm debris. It took air support, dropping water from above to help bring those fires under control. ” We are starting to have a few fires. They did have seven fires along the railroad tracks in Georgetown a couple nights ago, from the, from the passing train. That’s where we’re coming to we’re not in extreme danger, like North Georgia. They’re in extreme drought, but the drought is coming this way.” said Duke, the Chief Ranger overseeing Long, Liberty, and southern Bryan County.
Duke says when drought conditions combine with the number of trees down in the woods, as a result of the storm, things may get very dangerous. The impact of the storm on wildfires is already being felt. ” As far as causing a fire, it’s had very little impact. As far as causing a fire that gets started, to become more intense, it’s probably had a major impact.” said Duke. He adds the roadside piles of storm debris do not pose as big a fire hazard as the untouched trees that are now littering the forest floor as a result of the storm. “The trees in the woods, they are not cut up, they’re not collected, as far as fire danger, they make our job more difficult. Another issue that’s gonna come up are weakened trees, trees that haven’t fell, but are gonna fall when we get the next good wind storm.” Duke said. Georgia’s wildfire season runs from late December through early May. Duke says people should make sure all the storm debris around their yards is picked up. Doing so will reduce fuel for any wildfire, your property become threatened by fire.
The Georgia Forestry Commission reminds residents that an open burning permit is required for all types of outdoor burning, including hand-piled natural vegetation piles. Burning permits were suspended prior to Hurricane Matthew arriving on the Georgia coast and are currently not being issued. GFC has evaluated the local conditions affected by the hurricane and has determined that burning may resume in some locations beginning October 13, 2016, but only for some types of burning. Local GFC professionals will determine whether to issue permits each day based on local weather conditions and the availability of wildland firefighting resources in each county. “If burning permits are allowed in your area, we urge you to be mindful of your smoke,” says Frank Sorrells, GFC’s chief of forest protection. “Keep burn piles small and manageable, keep water and hand tools like shovels and rakes nearby to help control your fire, and never leave your fire unattended.” said Sorrells.
Permits are easy to get for hand-piled natural vegetation (commonly known as yard debris) by using GFC’s online burn permitting system, or by using the automated telephone permitting system (1.877.OK2.BURN). Both automated systems will alert you if burning permits remain restricted in your area.