Drought conditions increase concerns of fire danger for holiday weekend
CHICKAMAUGA, Georgia (WDEF) — Dry conditions are plaguing north Georgia and southeast Tennessee, increasing the fire risk throughout the region. Chattanooga is more than 8 inches behind in rainfall so far this year. With the upcoming 4th of July and the fireworks and campfires that accompany the holiday, the US Forest Service wants to remind people of the added risk drought conditions bring to the region.
“Looking back over records for this area, it hasn’t been this dry since 2007,” says Mark Wiles, Senior Forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Growth since then would only help fires if something were to happen as fuel for a fire has accumulated in the forest.
If something were to happen, Wiles says “They’re going to be hotter, they’re going to be faster, they’re going to be very intense, and dangerous for our firefighters to try to suppress.”
Despite the drought, campfires and warming fires are still allowed across much of northwest Georgia.
State and federal Forest Service employees have formed a special prevention team working to educate the public and keep fires from becoming a problem.
The team, the Conasauga National Wildland Fire Prevention and Education Team, has come together to promote fire prevention in northwest Georgia. The team consists of Georgia Forestry Commission employees and US Forestry Service employees.
Wiles says, “When you go camping, you want a campfire. And that campfire needs to be in an area that’s safe – it needs to be clear around the perimeter of the campfire, at least 15 to 20 foot. You need to clear out an area. When you build your fire, you need to build it to a manageable size – something that you can control. If there are children present, you need to make sure they aren’t playing in the fire. There needs to be a responsible adult there.”
However, holiday weekend or not – fireworks are not permitted on federal lands any day of the year. Fireworks are prohibited on all federal lands under the Department of the Interior and the USDA Department of Agriculture – including US Forests, National Parks, Fish and Wildlife lands, Bureau of Land Management.
According to Dequincy Gordon with the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forest, “There will be a $5,000 charge or penalty if you’re caught using fireworks on federal lands. And also potential imprisonment. If you are adjacent to the National Forest and utilize fireworks, shoot fireworks away from National Forest lands.”
If you decide to build a campfire, make sure to put it out properly.
“Once you’re ready to leave, make sure the fire is completely out. We recommend taking a shovel, and a bucket with water; pouring the water on the fire; stirring the embers with a shovel; pouring more water on the fire; stirring – you may need 3 to 4 buckets of water before it’s completely out. You should be able to put your hand in those ashes – in the ash pit – and it should be cool to the touch before you leave, ” says Wiles.
The fire we built at Chickamauga Military Park today was cool to the touch before we left.
Wiles concludes, “Just be careful. And realize that these fires are their responsibility if this is your campsite. Fire gets out of control, you’re responsible for it. That could lead to fines and that could also lead to suppression charges.”