Bartow wildfires double over this time last year
by Brande Poulnot
Oct 21, 2010 | 2346 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Ranger and Wildland Firefighter Robert Mitchell and Smokey Bear warn residents of a very high fire danger. Officials report an increase in Bartow County wildfires due to dry weather and high winds. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Forest Ranger and Wildland Firefighter Robert Mitchell and Smokey Bear warn residents of a very high fire danger. Officials report an increase in Bartow County wildfires due to dry weather and high winds. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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While Smokey Bear stands guard on Tennessee Street warning motorists of an increased threat of wildfires, local Georgia Forestry Commission officials blame dry weather and high winds for a local upsurge in grass and woods blazes.

This month alone, the GFC crew of three based in Cartersville, which covers both Bartow and Cherokee counties, responded to 10 grass and woods fires in Bartow and six in Cherokee.

"We're having a few more," Chief Ranger Bobby Smith said. "They're just an acre a piece or so, two or three acres. It's just more frequent and the ground is getting so dry now we're having to put [fire] breaks on just about all of them. The fire department usually puts them all out, but they keep having to go back now so we've been going to put fire breaks on all of them that we get called to. We're plowing every one of them now."

Since July of this year, 30 wildfires have burned across Bartow County from Acworth to Adairsville. That compares with 14 fires during the GFC's last fiscal year, which spanned from July 2009 to June.

"We've run double the amount fires this year than last year. We attribute that to the dry weather," Smith said. "They start different ways. Some of them are controlled burns, some are arson, kids playing with matches, different things.

"There's been a few behind subdivisions, but a lot of them are just out in the middle of nowhere. We've had a couple of structures threatened a little bit."

The causes of local wildfires range from a piece of equipment throwing a spark that lit up a field, destroying crops, to controlled burns that just got out of hand.

"If you're doing a controlled burn, stay with it and don't turn your back on it at all because it's getting away from people with the wind we've had recently," Smith said. "With extreme dry weather, we just caution everybody to use extra precaution with them."

GFC officials recently unveiled a burn permitting system they say is faster and easier and automatically ensures safe weather conditions for outdoor burning. By logging onto GaTrees.org 24 hours a day, users can enter registration and location data for burns of hand-piled, natural vegetation.

Residents who prefer to phone in their requests may still call 1-877-OK2-BURN or 1-877-652-2876.

"The recent lack of rainfall and tropical storm activity in the Atlantic and Gulf do have us on alert," GFC Chief of Protection Alan Dozier said in a press release. "Budget reductions are being felt throughout the state and our reduced numbers of GFC rangers need the public's assistance now more than ever."

State Climatologist and Professor of Engineering at the University of Georgia Dr. David Stooksbury said in the release the La Nina climate pattern may add to precarious conditions.

"La Nina is one of three winter climate patterns we get here in Georgia," Stooksbury said. "It normally produces warm and dry conditions, which we can expect now through mid-April, which is the heart of fire season."

When weather conditions allow a burn permit to be issued, Dozier said residents should always clear a swath wide enough to control the fire around the burn site and have tools close by to handle an escaped fire, including a hose, rake and shovel. In addition, to protect homes and other structures from wildfire, debris should be cleared from buildings' perimeters, roofs and gutters.

At SmokeyBear.com, officials offer these additional debris burning tips:

* Comply with local regulations -- Contact your local fire department in advance to confirm that burning is allowed and to find out whether a permit is required to burn debris.

* Check the weather forecast -- Weather fluctuations, such as sudden gusts of wind, could make debris burning spark a wildfire. Call your local fire department the day you plan to burn debris to finalize that the weather is safe enough to burn.

* Choose a safe burning site -- A safe site would be far away from power lines, overhanging limbs, buildings, automobiles and equipment. It would have vertical clearance at least three times the height of the pile -- as heat from the fire extends far past the actual flames that you see -- and a horizontal clearance twice the height of the debris pile.

* Prepare the site correctly -- The ground around the burn site should be surrounded by gravel or mineral soil (dirt) for at least 10 feet in all directions. Keep the surrounding area watered down during the burn.

* If using a burn barrel, make sure it is equipped with the proper features -- Burn barrels must be made of all-metal construction in good condition with no rust on the sides or bottom and properly ventilated with three evenly-spaced, 3-inch square vents spaced evenly around the rim near ground level. Each vent must be backed by a metal screen. A burn barrel also must have a metal top screen with mesh size of 1/4 inch or finer to keep sparks from escaping and potentially sparking a wildfire. When burning, layer the different types of debris and stir often. Be careful of sparks escaping the barrel when you stir it.

* Remain with your fire -- Stay with your fire until it is completely out. To ensure the fire has been completely extinguished, drown the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel and drown it again. Repeat several times. Check the burn area regularly over the next several days and up to several weeks following the burn, especially if the weather is warm, dry and windy.

* Keep it legal -- It is illegal to burn plastic, tires and most other waste products not from a tree or shrub.

For more detailed information about safe burning practices, current weather and fire risk conditions, and Georgia's forest resource, visit GaTrees.org. Visit SmokeyBear.com for information on equipment maintenance, campfire safety and home safety.