Georgia Dealing with Forest Firestorm More Than 700 Fires Have Hit Timberlands in Southeast Georgia This Season

Article excerpt

The forests of Southeast Georgia are burning. Hundreds of acres

have been charred and at least two homes destroyed over the past

eight months by fast-moving brush fires, state foresters say.

The most recent statistics show a total of 741 fires have

destroyed 2,278 acres of forest and timberland across Southeast

Georgia from the beginning of fire season July 1 through

February" Georgia Forestry Commission officials say.

The Southeast Georgia blazes are part of a statewide firestorm,

authorities said. Since the current fire season began, fire has

destroyed roughly 21,000 acres of Georgia forests and

timberland, said Bruce Pierce, forestry commission state

training officer.

That is 3 1/2 times more woodlands destroyed than in the

1994-95 fire season when 5,900 acres burned statewide, he said.

District Forester Buck Wynn said arson is to blame in several

recent brush fires occurring in Bacon, Brantley and Charlton

counties.

The exact number of acres burned in the arsons was not

immediately available from forestry officials, but Wynn said

those blazes are under investigation by two new forestry arson

specialists -- the first to be assigned to the 13-county

Waycross Forestry District.

Wynn said officials don't know if forest arsons are increasing

or whether more are being detected. "Before, we'd put out the

fire and go home," he said. "Now, with our two arson

investigators, we're taking a close look at all the fires."

No arrests have been reported, and Wynn said investigators have

not pinpointed the motive. Previous fires, he said, have been

set for a variety of reasons, from spite to money.

Some people, he said, "get drunk and start fires just to be

aggravating. It may be they just like watching us work. With

firebugs you just never know."

And, he said, investigators have not determined whether the

arsons were set by one person or a group. "In most cases," he

said, "it's one individual starting several fires who then will

go a couple of weeks without doing anything and then will start

up again."

District Ranger Jimmy Lee said no deaths or life-threatening

injuries have been reported in the arsons or other Southeast

Georgia forest fires so far this season. But he added that brush

fires destroyed two Wayne County homes.

With brush fires especially, Pierce said, the weather can play

a crucial role. "It was pretty wet last year," he said, "but it

has been pretty dry so far this season. The fire danger goes up

when it's dry and the humidity is low."

Although an average of 16,600 acres annually have been

destroyed over the past five years by Georgia forest and brush

fires, Pierce said man -- not nature -- most often is the main

fire-starter.

"Forty percent of the fires this season were started by debris

burning," Pierce said. "That's when people burn trash or burn

off their little garden patch and the fire gets away from them.

Or it's controlled burns, used for large land-clearing

operations that jump a firebreak and take off."

Lee pointed out that if the fires are set by landowners for

agricultural purposes such as clearing a pasture or field, state

law does not require them to get burning permits. But, he said,

the forestry commission does ask that it be notified in advance

of such "controlled burns."

"We're not trying to stop controlled burns," Lee said. …