Drought conditions spark fire concerns

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State forestry officials say drought conditions continue in Rabun County and urge anyone who wishes to do outdoor burning to use caution.

 The rain dance doesn’t seem to be working.

Dry conditions and minimal rainfall continue in Rabun County and Northeast Georgia as they have for the past several weeks.

Mike Davis, forest fire management officer for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, said that Northeast Georgia is considered to be in a drought.

The Forest Service uses a Keetch-Fobyram Drought Index (KDBI Index) to determine the different categories for the depth of the drought.

He said that Northeast Georgia began seeing dry conditions around late July and early August.

He said that the index scale ranges from 0-800, with 0 being very wet conditions and 800 being extremely dry, desert conditions.

“We’re [Forest Service] constantly monitoring that,” Davis said about the index. He said that the Forest Service receives data from nine remote automated weather stations on National Forest Lands.

Currently, Northeast Georgia has a KDBI Index of 500-700 plus range, which means that the conditions are extremely dry.

“They’re very unusual conditions for this time of year,” Davis said. He said that these continued dry conditions are a concern and that conditions have been compared to the conditions that caused the wildfires in 2016, although they are not yet that severe.  

Davis said that dry conditions are also evaluated through indicators in stream flow, moistures and vegetation. He said that debris like leaf litter and sticks can be evaluated to look at how dry conditions are.

With dry conditions comes the potential for wildfires and Davis said that it’s important for people to be mindful of activities that can cause wildfires, especially burning.

“Escaped reburns are the number one cause of wildfires in Georgia,” Davis said. He said that people should always be careful with fire use.

Davis clarified that a person has to have a burn permit from the state in order to burn legally. 

Davis said that wildfires can also be sparked by usage of equipment that throws sparks, homeowners dumping ashes out of fireplaces into the forest and vehicles that overheat and catch fire.

In addition, because conditions are so dry, a house fire that spreads could cause a wildfire. Lightening that occurs during isolated thunderstorms is also a source of wildfires.

Davis said that the Forest Service has seen fires on the west side of state forest lands, but they have been fairly small.

Davis said that this drought comes at an opportune time because this year celebrates Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday. He said it’s a good time to reflect on Smokey’s fire prevention campaign.

“Just to remember Smokey’s message, “only you can prevent wildfires”, is still very important,” Davis said.

He said that 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans and that people can prevent forest fires in a big way through awareness.

He said that people should always have water ready when burning as a precaution if the fire gets out of hand.

Davis said it’s important to call for help if burning conditions get out of hand.

Davis also said that he encourages homeowners to be part of a Firewise Community.

This is a national program that gives homeowners tips on how to protect their home.

The program “teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent loss,” according to the organization’s website.

Davis that that he encourages homeowners to “look for opportunities to so some of those things that are provided to help them mitigate that threat.”

To view the United States Drought Monitor, visit https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

This displays a map and summary of drought conditions in different areas of Georgia. A new map is released every Thursday with updated information, according to the website.

For more information on creating a Firewise Community, visit www.firewise.org.