By REBECCA HAZEN
Georgia averages over 2,300 wildfires annually with an average size of seven acres per fire. Kerry Phillips, Ranger III with the Dade County Unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), offers wildfire safety and prevention tips, and also explains the Forestry Commission’s role.
According to Phillips, warm temperatures, wind, low humidity, and atmospheric instability can increase the chances of a wildfire. People can also cause wildfires, especially during camping and burning activities, in addition to equipment use and malfunctions, and negligently discarded cigarettes.
“More than half of the wildfires in Georgia start because of careless debris burning,” Phillips said. “Always extinguish your fire before you leave it and never leave a fire unattended. Smokey [the Bear] says If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. If you come across a wildfire or accidentally start one, call 911.”
Earlier this month, there was a wildfire in Dade County, and Phillips noted that the Dade County unit of the GFC is involved in all county wildfires.
“GFC personnel are prepared to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Phillips said. “GFC resources from across the state respond to assist along with all the Fire Departments in Dade County and surrounding counties. After the fire’s out GFC follows Best Management Practices to prevent runoff and erosion of the fire breaks. We check into the fire’s cause and determination then complete a fire report.”
In addition, GFC provides the service of plowing pre-suppression firebreaks to landowners. Plowing is scheduled on a first come, first-served basis and limited to 25 hours per landowner if other requests are pending. Once all requests have been serviced, additional plowing in excess to the 25 hours may be available.
When asked if there have been any major wildfires in the County in the past, Phillips noted that 2016 was a historic year.
“We had a total of 74 wildfires that burned 5,802.95 acres. Two of the fires went over 2,000 acres each, the Fox Mountain Fire and Tatum Gulf Fire. Due to drought conditions, high winds, low relative humidity and steep rugged terrain, the fires grew larger, threatening multiple homes,” Phillips said.
According to Phillips, As of July 1, 2021, the Georgia outdoor burning requirements have changed. It is unlawful to burn man-made material such as household garbage, lumber, or plastic.
No permit is required for hand-piled natural vegetation/yard debris, meaning leaves and limbs only. Only burn all-natural vegetation such as grass and hedge clippings, limbs, leaves, pinecones, and other naturally occurring debris. Debris cannot be collected at one location and hauled/transported to another site for the purposes of burning. Permits are still required for large machine piles, agriculture, silviculture, land-clearing burns and vegetative storm debris Local ordinances concerning open/debris burning must be followed where they exist. For any questions on burning call the Dade County Unit at (706) 657-4211.
For safe burning, the following guidelines should be practiced:
Space – 25+ feet between fire and woodlands
Space – 50+ feet between fire and structures
Time – Sunrise to sunset
Attendance – Person responsible on-site until the fire is extinguished
R – Reasonable precautions – Tools/measures in place to prevent escaped fire.
Tools/measures in place to prevent escaped fire include continuous pressurized water source on site; man-made or natural barrier to contain fire, such as bare soil, rocks, bricks, burn barrel; hand tools or fire-containing equipment on site, such as a rake, shovel, garden hoe; and weather awareness of National Weather Service red flag warnings, which means that there is high fire danger.
GFC also offers a wide variety of pine and hardwood seedlings, catering to small, private, non-industrial landowners. Seedlings are available in small or large quantities and varieties suitable for all environments in Georgia are offered.
Each year, GFC supplies seedlings to Georgia landowners for reforestation, beautification, and wildlife habitat. GFC begins processing orders on July 1 for the following planting season (in Georgia, planting season is from December through March 1). Seedlings are available to the public on a first come-first serve basis. Orders can be delivered to and picked up at any GFC office across the state without additional charge.
The GFC also offers programs in Forest Management, Conservation, Fire Prevention, Suppression, and Urban and Community Forest. A full list can be found on the GFC’s website, gatrees.org.