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Beware: Drought fire danger is extreme

By Walter Geiger Though well over 100 people turned out Nov. 7 to pray for rain at the farm bureau here, drought has set in. There has been no appreciable rain here since mid-September and none is forecast. Creeks and ponds have dried up or been severely diminished. Crops, winter grazing and pastures are dead. Cattlemen face a winter hay crisis and low cattle prices. But, now, the drought’s biggest threat is fire. On Wednesday morning, Gov. Nathan Deal banned used of fireworks indefintely. When wind conditions are right, a smokey haze descends on Lamar from fires in the north Georgia mountains. One in the Cohutta wilderness has burned over 23,000 acres. Another has burned over 4,000 more. We are one act of carelessness or gust of wind from the same fate. The drought index here is hovering between 700-750. The chart only goes to 800. Tinderbox conditions exist but so far we have been lucky, according to area chief ranger Jeff Kenerly of the Georgia Forestry Commission. ’We have only worked a few brush fires here and there locally, Most of what we have been called out for has been people burning without a permit,’ Kenerly said. His crews helped with a 600-acre fire in Haralson County Nov. 10. There was also a sizable fire in Harris and Talbot counties that took three tractors to control the following day. ’This is probably the driest I have seen it in my career, especially in the fall. We usually have droughts like this in the spring and early summer. We have been lucky. All we need is a wind event of some kind and an ignition in the right place and it could be bad,’ the veteran ranger added. Georgia is reporting 45-50 wildfires a day at present and Kenerly has been sending equipment and manpower from here to north Georgia consistently for a month now. There is no relief in the form of rain on the horizon. ’People around here have been pretty good in agreeing not to burn. We still have a few that refuse to pay attention to conditions, do not even call for permits and forget that even a charcoal grill can be dangerous. We had a wildfire sparked from a grill. And, we have had several organizations insist on having bonfires which are very dangerous,’ Kenerly said. ’Hopefully the drift smoke last week woke a few people up. We won’t even have a fire in a fire pit on our concrete patio. It is just not worth the risk right now,’ Kenerly concluded.

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