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
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
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
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
"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. …