Forest service ramps up firefighting efforts
UPDATE, 2:29 p.m. Wednesday: The U.S. Forest Service says there are 202 crew members tending to the 7,999 acre Rock Mountain Fire. Five helicopters, three bulldozers and seven engines are maintaining 10 percent containment.
There is no further change to previous information.
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday: The U.S. Forest Service has released an update stating that the Burrells Ford and Timber Ridge fires are 100 percent contained.
The report states the Burrells Ford Fire burned 185 acres by Highway 28 between Warwoman Road and the Georgia/South Carolina state line. Crews continue to monitor the fire area for reburn potential.
At the Timber Ridge Fire, the Forest Service says 600 acres have been burned.
"Crews continue to monitor the fire and work within existing containment lines. No structures are threatened," the report states.
The Rock Mountain Fire in Persimmon has scorched 6,700 acres and is just 10 percent contained.
"The fire has moved into the Nantahala Wilderness to the north and continues to burn actively," the report states. "The continued drought and relative low humidity are causing containment problems. The fuels are very dry and fire spread is occurring beyond the typical burn period. Crews continue to focus on structure protection and perimeter control."
A public fire information briefing is planned for 6 p.m. tonight at the Rabun County Courthouse. Fire officials will provide an update on fire operations.
UPDATE, 11:40 a.m. Tuesday: The latest from the U.S. Forest Service says the Rock Mountain Fire in Persimmon has burned 6,487 acres and is 10 percent contained. There has been no change in the Burrells Ford Fire, which has burned 150 acres and is 100 percent contained.
There were 160 personnel with boots on the ground to help fight the fires. Helicopters have had trouble operating this morning as smoke inversion keeps them grounded, the Forest Service said.
"One hundred acres of Rock Mountain Fire was across the Appalachian trail by end of shift on Monday," an update stated. "Growth occurred toward the east/northeast and is established in Pot Gap Ridge. Crews were successful in burning out along the road on the east flank to keep fire spread in check. Firefighters were shifted to the northwest flank as fire activity increased. The fire has crossed Tates Branch."
Operations for today will include constructing and re-visiting firelines to ensure they remain clear of fuel.
"As leaves continue falling, they provide fuel for fire to move across previously cleared containment lines and spread," the update stated. "Firefighters need to revisit lines daily to clear them of fuel so that they serve as effective barriers to fire growth. They are scouting for containment and contingency lines out in front of the fire toward the north and west."
Crews will conduct a burnout between Road 54 and the fire's edge.
"Where we have resources, we are successful," said Keith Satterfield Deputy Incident Commander. "Without crews and equipment the fire continues to grow; natural features, like creeks, are not stopping the spread."
Additional crews, engines and dozers have been ordered to improve the success of firefighting efforts.
Pre-evacuation orders are still in place for the Plum Orchard community and Tate City. Charlie's Creek Road and Tallulah River Road remain closed, as is the Appalachian Trail between Dick's Creek Gap and Rock Gap, North Carolina.
A public fire information briefing is planned for 6 p.m. tonight at the Rabun County Courthouse. Fire officials will provide an update on fire operations.
UPDATE, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday: Rabun County firefighters say they need batteries of all sizes for flashlights and headlamps, especially AA and AAA batteries. Also needed are hand and foot warmers as temperatures continue to remain low.
"If you would like to donate these items, please bring them to Rabun County Fire Station 1 in Clayton," stated a post on the Rabun County EMA Facebook page.
UPDATE, 8:12 a.m. Tuesday: There has been no reported change from the previous update on Monday. Rock Mountain Fire areas along Cat Gap Road, Plum Orchard, Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch remain under a pre-evacuation notice, as does Tate City. Fire crews continue to monitor the burn at Timber Ridge Fire, formerly known as Timber Bluff.
U.S. Forest Service assets have arrived and Rabun County Fire Department volunteers have fallen into support roles.
There is a community meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the Rabun County Courthouse.
UPDATE, 9:18 p.m. Monday: Rabun County EMA has announced that the evacuation order for Coleman River Road and Nichols Lane in the Rock Mountain Fire area in Persimmon is lifted and residents may return home there.
"Please be aware that Coleman River Road, Nichols Lane and all roads off of Cat Gap and Plum Orchard are still under a pre-evacuation notice. This means that the fire could still change directions so please stay alert and ready to move," states a post on the EMA's Facebook page.
The EMA also reminds residents that a community public information meeting about the fire situation in the county will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Rabun County Courthouse.
The U.S. Forest Service has also released an infrared map of the Timber Bluff Fire, which is also known as the Timber Ridge Fire. It can be seen by clicking here.
UPDATE, 6 p.m. Monday: Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said U.S. Forest Service crews are wrapping up their operations at the Timber Bluff Fire. The Rabun County Fire Department will keep a truck in the area to patrol throughout the night.
UPDATE, 5:07 p.m. Monday: Rabun County fire crews have confirmed a police officer's findings in a reported Black Rock Mountain fire: There was no fire.
UPDATE, 4:55 p.m. Monday: Rabun County fire crews were called at 4:45 p.m. to Screamer Mountain for a reported brush fire, however, firefighters reported that what the caller saw was the evening sun reflecting off a glass pane in a residence. Before that call was cleared, another call came in for a reported fire on Black Rock Mountain. Three stations are responding to the scene.
A police officer who traveled to the top of the mountain reports seeing no evidence of a fire.
UPDATE, 3:10 p.m. Monday: From the Timber Bluff Fire front lines: Rabun County firefighters are joined by U.S. Forest Service and Georgia Forestry personnel on the scene. Crews have been placed at the very end of Claude Smith Road and on East Wolf Creek Road to provide protection for structures. Claude Smith Road connects into Timber Bluff Drive at the base of the mountain.
UPDATE, 1:20 p.m. Monday: The U.S. Forest service has delegated command of the Rock Mountain Fire and the Burrells Ford Fire to PNW Team 3, which will provide logistical and planning support to firefighters and Forest Service employees, according to the latest information release from the Forest Service.
"While many of the members of the Type 1 incident management team make their homes in the Pacific Northwest, they have firefighting experience in all regions of the United States; some even bring international experience," the release states.
A public fire information briefing is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Rabun County Courthouse. Fire officials will provide an update on fire operations.
BURRELLS FORD FIRE: Firefighters have continued to patrol the Burrells Ford Fire along Highway 28 between Warwoman Road and the South Carolina/Georgia state line to ensure they hold. The fire has burned 150 acres and was 100 percent contained.
ROCK MOUNTAIN FIRE: The Rock Mountain Fire, which has burned 5,484 acres, has continued to move toward Chestnut Mountain. The Forest Service said it has not crossed Tate Branch Creek and firefighting crews continue to hold it in Charlie's Creek. Both creeks are trigger points that if crossed will necessitate the evacuation of Tate City residents, who are allowed the continued use of the closed Tallulah River Road. The fire was 10 percent contained.
"Firefighters have burned around structures to better protect them against fire spread. An engine crew continued to patrol around structures through last night," the Forest Service release states.
Today's operations include holdling and constructing fire lines. Crews will also scout for containment and contigency lines. Containment has been notoriously difficult in the Rock Mountain Fire because of steep terrain and dense forest. Helicopters have been brought in to pull water from the north end of Lake Burton. They will operate from a base at the intersection of Charlie Mountain Road and Bridge Creek Road, returning to Toccoa Airport each night, according to the Forest Service.
Five crews with five engines, two bulldozers and one water tender are fighting the Rock Mountain Fire.
Extreme drought conditions persist in Rabun County. A burn ban has been put in place by county officials and for the Chattahoochee National Forest. The drought has helped the Rock Mountain Fire spread an average of a 1/2 mile per day with flame lenghts of 1 to 4 feet, the Forest Service said.
The Appalachian Trail between Dicks Creek Gap and Rock Gap, North Carolina, continues to be closed.
For a map of the Rock Mountain Fire, click here.
UPDATE, 12:30 p.m. Monday: Rabun County Emergency Management has announced that a public information meeting about the forest fire situation in Rabun County will take place at the Rabun County Courthouse on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The meeting will be le by the U.S. Forest Service and the Rabun County Board of Commissioners.
The Clayton Tribune is still awaiting word from the U.S. Forest Service on an update of the Rock Mountain Fire. The latest available is that officials will look at lifting an evacuation order for Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch tonight. Firefighters in the area have continued to protect structures and none have been lost.
Firefighting efforts also continue on the Timber Bluff Fire, where no structures have been lost. Previously, Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said the goal of firefighters was to let the fire burn, but control it's path and protect structures.
UPDATE, 10:50 a.m. Monday: Rabun County EMA says a decision should be made by tonight about lifting the evacuation order for residents of Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch near the Rock Mountain Fire in Persimmon. It also reiterated that there is no danger to Rabun County Schools from the Timber Bluff Fire.
UPDATE, 10:30 a.m. Monday: As Rabun County firefighters set up for Timber Bluff Fire structure protection on Eastman Mountain and in the 800 block of Claude Smith Road, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing an information release on the Rock Mountain and Burrells Ford fires. The Forest Service is also in the process of establishing its command post for North Georgia operations.
Visibility in parts of Rabun County has increased as morning fog dissipated, however, winds from the north continue to bring smoke from North Carolina's wildfires into the county. Visibility continues to be reduced in areas of fire, including parts of Highway 441 South, Highway 76 East and Persimmon Road. Road closures include Timber Bluff Drive, Tallulah River Road and Coleman River Road. Firefighters are asking that non-residents stay away from areas of firefighting for the safety of emergency personnel and residents in the area.
UPDATE, 6:57 a.m. Monday: The Rabun County Fire Department is reporting no change in the firefighting plan at Timber Bluff Fire, as well as no further road closures. Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said the fire jumped a break on Eastman Mountain, but it was quickly handled. He reports there are some trees down on Timber Bluff that will be cleaned up soon. No structures were in danger at 6:50 a.m.
Upchurch also reported similar findings at the Rock Mountain Fire, in that fire crews continue efforts to gain containment and protect structures. Despite days of burning, no structures have been lost.
The U.S. Forest Service reportedly will establish a command center at Clayton City Hall to handle its North Georgia operations. Already, 157 firemen from across the nation were working the Rock Mountain Fire.
Rabun County Schools will be in session today, despite smoke and ash in the vicinity from firefighting efforts at the Timber Bluff Fire. Bus drivers will contact families on closed roads to make alternate plans, Superintendent Melissa Williams said Sunday.
UPDATE, 9:55 p.m. Sunday: It's been five days since Rabun County Fire crews responded to the first reported wildfire along Highway 28. Now having battled three blazes spread out from one end of the county to the other, they are weary but their resolve is strong. Even after thousands of acres have been scorched and as two of the fires rage on, not a single structure in their path has been lost.
Today, perhaps more so than any other day, residents prayed for rain. A 50 percent chance of showers turned into just a few sprinkles, hardly enough to make a dent in the wildfires. Now the forecast calls for five days of clear skies, except for the smoke from the fires here, in North Carolina and in the Cohutta Wilderness Area. North Carolina has lost more than 17,000 acres to 20 wildfires, a figure nearly matched by the Rough Ridge Fire in the Cohutta Area where firefighters have gained 20 percent containment.
Here's more on Rabun's three wildfires:
BURRELLS FORD FIRE: The Burrells Ford Fire is located along Highway 28 east of Warwoman Road. Rabun fire crews first responded shortly after noon Wednesday and have responded several times since for reports of rekindles. Currently, the U.S. Forest Service says the fire is 100 percent contained. It has burned just more than 30 acres after jumping containment lines twice. As of 9 p.m., there is one fire engine patrolling the fire lines, according to Forest Service personnel.
ROCK MOUNTAIN FIRE: The Rock Mountain Fire is located along Tallulah River Road in Persimmon. Rabun fire crews first responded to reports of up to five fires in the area on Wednesday around 4 p.m. The five fires eventually joined into two, one on each side of the road. On the west side sandwiched between Tallulah River Road and Cat Gap Road, the Rock Mountain Fire burned uncontained and unstaffed. On the east side sandwiched between Tallulah River Road and Coleman River Road, fire crews focused on the Flat Branch Fire as it posed the greatest threat to nearby homes and to Tate City. By Saturday, the fires joined and became known solely as the Rock Mountain Fire. By 9 p.m., the Forest Service reported it had burned more than 4,100 acres. It was 10 percent contained.
Residents of Plum Orchard and Cat Gap have been issued pre-evacuation orders but were free to remain at home Sunday evening. The same was so for residents of Tate City, though going home meant traveling down a closed Tallulah River Road. On the east edge of the fire, residents of Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch were evacuated Friday. Firefighters in the area - of which there were 157 who came to Rabun from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and New York - continued their efforts to protect their homes. So far, they have been successful. At 9 p.m., Forest Service officials said more resources from other states will be arriving soon.
The Rock Mountain Fire and the Burrells Ford Fire, along with an attempt to set Warwoman Dell on fire, are suspected acts of arson. The Rabun County Sheriff's Office continues to seek the public's help in locating the suspected arsonist or arsonists. Vehicle descriptions include a white Expedition, a Jeep Cherokee with stickers on the back and a dark blue SUV with a male driver. The public is asked to call 911 to report any suspicious activity or burning as Rabun County and the Chattahoochee National Forest are under burn bans.
TIMBER BLUFF FIRE: The Timber Bluff Fire was a rekindle of a fire two weeks old that was fought after it was noticed by air, according to property owners there. Rabun County fire crews have been joined by the Forest Service and firefighters from Demorest and Stephens County, among others, in their fight to protect structures. Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch at 9 p.m. said the efforts of firefighters to control the burn while protecting structures has been successful and no structures have been lost. Timber Bluff Drive remains closed to all except firefighters and residents, a move made for the safety of fire crews as smoke from the fire and from back burning control measures reduced visibility. Eastman Mountain Road was closed for a few hours Sunday to allow firefighters to back burn, but was reopened by 9 p.m. Upchurch said Rabun fire crews have met with an incident management team that will take over operations there for the Forest Service tonight.
The Timber Bluff Fire is not a threat to Rabun County Schools, according to Superintendent Melissa Williams. She said that although the fire and firefighting methods are creating smoke and ash in the vicinity of the schools, the buildings are not in danger. The smoke and ash are expected to continue Monday, which will prompt school officials to keep children inside. Bus drivers will be in contact with families on the closed roads to determine an alternate course, she said.
As the U.S. Forest Service prepares to set up a command post at Clayton City Hall on Monday, donation efforts at the Clayton Police Department and Clayton Fire Station have been called off. Rabun County Emergency Management Director Michael Mazarky says overwhelming community support provided a "great start" on supplies. Care package efforts continued at Liberty Baptist Church on Bridge Creek Road in Tiger, as volunteers put together kits including snacks, toothpaste, eye drops and other small nonperishable goods for firefighters to have with them on long shifts. On Facebook, Liberty Baptist Pastor Scott Cates said the church "should be OK for a while" on supplies after today and any future needs would be announced. At 5:30 p.m., a prayer vigil was held at the church that is serving as the county's 24-hour shelter for evacuees and firefighters.
A GoFundMe page set up to collect financial donations had by 9:55 p.m. garnered $6,180 of a $10,000 goal. To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/donations-for-ne-ga-fire-relief.
UPDATE, 6:20 p.m. Sunday: Rabun County Schools Superintendent Melissa Williams says she has been in contact with emergency personnel regarding the Timber Bluff Fire burning in the mountains behind Rabun County Schools. Back burning operations to help control the fire are creating smoke and ash in the vicinity of the schools, however, the schools are not in danger of the blaze. She said smoke and ash is expected to continue Monday, which will prompt school officials to keep children inside.
Williams added that she is prepared to make an all call before 7 a.m. Monday when she has more information available.
UPDATE, 4:50 p.m. Sunday: Timber Bluff Drive is now closed to all traffic, except for residents of the road and firefighters. The call was made for the safety of the public and for the firefighters working in the area.
Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said the goal at Timber Bluff is to control the burn as much as possible, only extinguishing flames when a structure is threatened. So far, firefighter efforts to save structures have been successful.
UPDATE, 3:20 p.m. Sunday: Smoke from the Timber Bluff Fire is impacting visibility and air quality in Clayton and areas north as southern winds push smoke from the mountains into town.
For those with respiratory issues, it's advised to limit outdoor activity and to keep air purifiers running.
UPDATE, 2:25 p.m. Sunday: From the U.S. Forest Service on the Rock Mountain Fire: "Yesterday, the U.S. Forest Service closed an approximately 36-mile section of the Appalachian Trail between Dicks Creek Gap and Rock Gap, North Carolina, for safety reasons."
The fire remains at 10 percent containment as it has burned 4,100 acres. Although residents of Cat Gap and Plum Orchard roads in Persimmon are under pre-evacuatiom orders, no further evacuations than Coleman Creek or Nichols Branch roads have taken place.
Tallulah River Road remains closed except for fire personnel and Tate City residents.
UPDATE, 1 p.m. Sunday: Firefighting efforts to protect structures in Timber Bluff Fire continue. Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said Eastman Mountain Road from the 1800 block to East Wolf Creek Road is closed because of back burns being conducted.
UPDATE, 10:45 a.m. Sunday: With just three words, Timber Bluff property owner Doc Watson summed up the thoughts and prayers of thousands watching as Rabun County burns: "Come on rain!"
As the former machine shop instructor walked the graveled curves of Timber Bluff Drive, the wilderness above him burned. With flames continuing their march down the bank toward the road, heavy smoke was cast into the sky. While Watson surveyed the line of fire, sprinkles of rain began to fall. He looked up and smiled, then said he hoped the weather models showing increasing chances of rain were right.
U.S. Forest Service firefighters geared up less than 100 yards away under a home Watson said was likely unoccupied. As they walked up the steep driveway to the house, Watson noted the home might be unoccupied as the owner kept it as a vacation home after switching jobs from Toccoa to North Carolina. Unoccupied or not, the Forest Service firefighters began digging a fire line to save the structure as flames drew closer.
Like his neighbors at the top of Timber Bluff did on Saturday, Watson took comfort in watching them work.
"I'd come out to check the fire, where it was and I could hear the boys talking and the truck would be idling, and I was like 'All right. I can go back inside for a while,'" he said. "It was a comforting sound, knowing they were here."
Forest Service personnel at the scene around 9 a.m. said the level of containment on the Timber Bluff Fire was unknown, adding that firefighters were checking areas along roads on all sides of the mountain while helicopter crews aided in identifying the perimeter. As more sprinkles of rain fell from the sky, a firefighter said he hoped that the rain would either soak the area and douse the fire or that it wouldn't get too wet so as to create "dirty burns" as they seek to maintain fire lines around homes.
As the morning wore on, it appeared from the National Weather Service forecast that the latter was be true. Once predicting a 50 percent chance of rain for Rabun County today, by 10:25 a.m. that forecast was reduced to a 40 percent chance of rain with 1/10th of an inch possible.
In a morning statement on Facebook, Rabun County EMA said firefighters battled Rabun's blazes all night as they protected homes in both the Timber Bluff Fire area and the Rock Mountain Fire area. Although EMA cautioned that evacuations could happen today, Forest Service personnel said residents of Timber Bluff have so far been able to stay at home. Homeowners have alerted fire crews to any need for structure protection. Such a call was issued at 10:30 a.m. for a home along Eastman Mountain Road. Rabun firefighters responded to the scene. And a home on Tomahawk Lane remained of concern. Two thousand more gallons of water was brought there as efforts to keep the fire at bay were ramped up.
Over at the Rock Mountain Fire, residents of Cat Gap Road and Plum Orchard in Persimmon are under pre-evacuation orders but have been able to remain at home. Their homes are on the west side of the Rock Mountain Fire that had burned more than 4,100 acres by early this morning. Residents of Tate City have also been able to remain at home as firefighting efforts to keep the blaze at bay have been successful. That fire was reported at 10 percent containment early this morning.
The only residents who have been evacuated were those along Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch Road. Although the fire has jumped containment lines, U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Michelle Burnett said no structures have been lost.
"We are getting good containment lines in around structures in Nichols Branch, Coleman River Road and Plum Orchard areas," Burnett said. "No structures have been harmed."
A third wildfire in Rabun County has been fought along Highway 28 between Warwoman Road and the Georgia/South Carolina state line. Firefighters there said Saturday the fire jumped a containment line but remained 90 percent contained. On Sunday, a flight crew offered to fly over so firefighters on the ground could have a better idea of the overall scene.
The Rock Mountain Fire, the Highway 28 Fire and an attempt to set Warwoman Dell on fire are all suspected acts of arson, as are North Carolina's wildfires - 20 of them burning more than 17,000 acres. The Rabun County Sheriff's Office continues to seek the public's help in locating the suspected arsonist or arsonists who might have set these fires and at least one more Thursday in Warwoman Dell. Vehicle descriptions include a white Expedition, a Jeep Cherokee with stickers on the back and a dark blue SUV with a male driver. The public is asked to call 911 to report any suspicious activity or burning as Rabun County and the Chattahoochee National Forest are under burn bans.
As the U.S. Forest Service prepares to set up a command post at Clayton City Hall on Monday, reinforcements have been arriving. Additional Forest Service firefighters joined the Timber Bluff Fire effort Sunday morning. So did firefighters from Banks County. On Saturday, Demorest firefighters were atop the mountain with Rabun firefighters.
Donation efforts at the Clayton Police Department and Clayton Fire Station have been called off for now as an overwhelming amount of support from the community provided a "great start" on supplies, the EMA said in a Facebook post. Care package efforts continue at Liberty Baptist Church on Bridge Creek Road in Tiger. On Facebook, Liberty Baptist Pastor Scott Cates said there will be a care package assembly today at 3 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., a prayer vigil will be held at the church.
And a GoFundMe page set up to collect financial donations had by 10:45 a.m. garnered $4,955 of a $10,000 goal. To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/donations-for-ne-ga-fire-relief.
UPDATE, 8:20 a.m. Sunday: The U.S. Forest Service has corrected the acreage on the Rock Mountain Fire. It is 4,100 acres burned.
UPDATE, 7:50 a.m. Sunday: The U.S. Forest Service is reporting that the Rock Mountain Fire has burned 3,100 acres in Persimmon. It is now 10 percent contained.
"We are getting good containment lines in around structures in Nichols Branch, Coleman River Road and Plum Orchard areas," said U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Michelle Burnett. "No structures have been harmed."
At the Timber Bluff Fire, heavy smoke rises skyward as lines of fire slowly march downhill, threatening structures in the way. Firefighters from around the area are working to save them.
UPDATE, 6:40 a.m. Sunday: Rain. Sprinkles of rain are beginning to fall after more than 25 days of dryness. The chance for showers today from the National Weather Service has been increased to 50 percent. Up to a quarter of an inch is possible as the Rock Mountain, Timber Bluff and Burrells Ford fires continue to burn in Rabun County.
Around 2:45 a.m., firefighters called for assistance around Nichols Branch as the Rock Mountain fire jumped a containment line.
Around 6:20 a.m., Banks County firefighters joined Rabun firefighters at the Timber Bluff Fire, which reportedly jumped a containment line Saturday night.
UPDATE, 9:10 p.m. Saturday: Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said firefighters are in place tonight to watch over structures on Tomahawk Lane and in the Wolf Creek area as the Timber Bluff Fire continues.
The U.S. Forest Service has not advised of any changes in the Rock Mountain Fire since our earlier update.
UPDATE, 7:32 p.m. Saturday: A resident in the 700 block of Timber Bluff Drive reports that the fire has jumped the line and is continuing down the ridge on the south side.
On a positive note, the National Weather Service has increased the chance for rain to 40 percent. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.
UPDATE, 6:50 p.m. Saturday: Rabun County EMA has announced that because of "overwhelming support" from the community, it is shutting down donation sites until further notice.
"We have a great start of supplies that will meet the needs of our first responders," stated an EMA Facebook post. "So until further notice, please hold off from bringing any more donations at this time."
UPDATE, 6:37 p.m. Saturday: While Rabun County firefighters setup at East Wolfcreek Road and Eastman Mountain Road to continue battling the Timber Bluff Fire, Station 8 was called back to the Highway 28 Fire for a possible rekindle.
UPDATE, 4 p.m. Saturday (See new photo in slider): Drivers along Highway 441 can see thick smoke rising behind Rabun County High School. Timber Bluff is on fire. From Eastman Mountain Road to Rickman Airfield Road and Tuts Mountain Road, the U.S. Forest Service and Rabun County firefighters work to protect structures. One in particular up the very narrow Tomahawk Lane is of concern, says Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch.
Fire crews in the area have called for helicopter support to scout the perimeter so they can have a better idea of what they're looking at. Still, the fire once thought extinguished rages on.
This is of course happening as fire resources are spread out from one end of the county to the other. The Forest Service has called in additional resources. It expects to have a command post camp set up at Clayton City Hall by Monday. Additional firefighters from across the nation have come to Rabun to help protect homes and lives from not only the Timber Bluff Fire, which was sparked weeks ago and thought extinguished, but also the Rock Mountain Fire, which by now has burned more than 2,700 acres of Rabun County woodland on its march toward Tate City. Persimmon residents of Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch have already been evacuated from the east side of the fire. On the west, residents of Cat Gap Road and Plum Orchard have been given pre-evacuation notices.
And that's not even mentioning the Highway 28 Fire that closed the highway Wednesday and Thursday. The road was opened Thursday evening and remained so on Saturday, even as the fire jumped a containment line by Burrells Ford and firefighters fought for 90 percent containment.
Residents have continued to call in smoke when they see it - Stonewall Creek Road, the Camp Dixie area and Ramey Road. All of these on Saturday afternoon.
The Highway 28 Fire, Rock Mountain Fire and an attempt to catch Warwoman Dell on fire are all suspected acts of arson. The Rabun County Sheriff's Office is seeking the public's help with locating a suspicious dark blue SUV, possibly a Jeep Cherokee, driven by a white male. Reports have also included a white Expedition. Anyone seeing fire or seeing someone setting fires is urged to report it to 911.
UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. Saturday: A U.S. Forest Service hotshot crew with a bulldozer has joined Rabun County firefighters at the Timber Bluff Fire. There is concern for a house atop Tomahawk Lane, said Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch. Firefighting efforts to protect structures in the area remain in full force.
Liberty Baptist Church reports that no evacuees from Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch Road, where the Rock Mountain Fire threatens homes, have come to the shelter, however, volunteers are there putting together care packages for firefighters. Supplies are still needed. (See church address in first story below.)
Forest Service fire crews are being sent to the Plum Orchard side of the Rock Mountain Fire. Residents there and on Cat Gap were given pre-evacuation notices earlier today.
The Rock Mountain Fire is 5 percent contained.
UPDATE, 1 p.m. Saturday: Smoke billows above the forest along Tallulah River Road. Signs are now in place at its intersection with Persimmon Road warning that the road is closed because of fire, the 2,600-plus acre Rock Mountain Fire.
Residents of Tate City may use the road. U.S. Forest Service firefighters have been successful thus far protecting the small town and its residents, who have not yet been evacuated.
Residents along Cat Gap Road in Persimmon and Plum Orchard have been given a pre-evacuation notice, Forest Service personnel said, but they also are able to remain in their homes.
From the Forest Service: "Overnight, the Rock Mountain Fire grew to 2,606 acres. Fire personnel conducted some back burning operations to protect homes and other structures in the evacuation area of Nichols Branch and Coleman River Roads. As a result, no structures were lost. The human-caused fire remains under investigation.
Responders continue to focus on public and firefighter safety, as well as protecting homes and structures near the fire. They also continue to scout and assess additional containment lines. Steep, rugged terrain remains a challenge.
An incident management team, with approximately 50 members, will take over management of the fire tomorrow."
Again, the Forest Service emphasizes burn bans issued for Rabun County and the Chattahoochee National Forest.
UPDATE, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch reports that crews are working atop, along and in front of the Timber Bluff Fire to protect homes in the area until the U.S. Forest Service crews can come in and cut fire lines with a bulldozer.
"They have a 10 man hotshot crew in the woods surveying it now," he said at 11:55 a.m.
Neighbors gathered atop Timber Bluff as Rabun County, Forest Service and Demorest firefighters worked to protect a home. They said the fire began about two weeks ago on Forest Service land, and it was once thought extinguished. A level of containment on the Timber Bluff Fire was not available at noon.
Rabun County Emergency Management Director Mike Mazarky reports that Rabun County has issued a local state of emergency, which will allow it to ask the state for additional resources to help with structure protection. Mazarky said the move was made "due to the size of the fires, their location and their proximity to houses" as well as the strain to the volunteers of the local fire department. The state of emergency was issued at 10 a.m.
Also, Mazarky asked that people looking to donate items hold off on doing so until after the Forest Service gets its command post set up. He said local officials will determine what the Forest Service's needs are and post that information when donations will be accepted again.
UPDATE, 11 a.m. (See new photo in slider) Saturday: The area of Rabun County High School remains smoky as the Timber Bluff fire continues. Rabun firefighters at the scene said the U.S. Forest Service is going to bring a bulldozer and cut a fire line behind the houses. Rabun fire crews with Station 6 working now to protect them by spraying water and dousing the flames as they approach.
Head coach Lee Shaw confirmed Friday night that tonight's game will go on as planned at 7:30 p.m. at Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium.
A GoFundMe account to assist with firefighter needs has been set up. Visit
https://www.gofundme.com/donations-for-ne-ga-fire-relief for details.
The National Weather Service is calling for a 20 percent chance of showers on Sunday, increasing to 30 percent chance Sunday night.
UPDATE, 9:54 a.m. Saturday: The Highway 28 fires by Burrells Ford jumped containment lines as U.S. Forest Service firefighters fought to maintain containment. Forest Service personnel at the scene around 9:30 a.m. reported that the blaze was about 90 percent contained. Highway 28 to the Georgia/South Carolina line remains open.
Forest Service personnel are stressing that the burn ban for Rabun County and U.S. Forest Service lands be followed.
SATURDAY, 8 a.m.: As the U.S. Forest Service settled in for the long haul Saturday against an uncontained Rock Mountain Fire that threatens the small community of Tate City and parts of Persimmon, Rabun County officials were putting plans in motion to accommodate an influx of hundreds or thousands of firefighting personnel.
In an email to Clayton Business and Merchants Association Vice President Cricket Werkheiser, Rabun County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Teka Earnhardt said the Forest Service will be using Rabun County as its command center for all of North Georgia.
"We will have an influx of hundreds to thousands of people beginning Monday to the county," Earnhardt wrote. "They will be working 16 hour shifts but will be based here for at least the next two weeks.
"Lodging and campgrounds have already been contacted for reservations. Empty fields have been made available for some camping and rest areas.
"The reason for this email is to ask you to let the Clayton restaurants and shops know that there is going to be a major influx of people. We don't know if they will be only hitting fast food places or if they will shop but we do know that there is going to be large numbers of people here for at least the next 3 weeks and all will be Fire & Rescue workers.
"They have not asked for anything free. I am only letting you know so that we can be ready to help and assist these large numbers over the course of the next weeks and for everyone to understand the job these folks are being asked to do."
Liberty Baptist Church on Bridge Creek Road in Tiger, the Clayton Police Department and Fire Station 1 in Clayton were already announced as drop-off points for non-perishable foods, water, cough drops and other supplies that will be sorted into care packages to be delivered to Rabun County and Forest Service firefighting personnel who have had boots on the ground since numerous wildfires were sparked on Wednesday.
In a Facebook post, Liberty Baptist Pastor Scott Cates said his church has become the county's Emergency 24-hour Shelter to aid displaced residents who were under a mandatory evacuation from Coleman River Road and Nichols Branch Road in the Tallulah River Road area. He said the Southern Baptist Convention was en route with a full kitchen and shower unit available to evacuees and firefighters. He put out the call for supplies such as handkerchiefs or bandanas, chapstick, eye drops, cough drops, small snacks like nuts and protein bars, hand and feet warming packets, toothbrushes and toothpaste and water. The items can be dropped off at the church at 2206 Bridge Creek Road, Tiger.
As Good Samaritans set about caring for evacuees and firefighters, Tate City residents were waiting on word that they too need to evacuate. On Friday morning while the Tallulah River Road remained opened, Tate City residents Steve and Julie Sickmond were making their way toward Persimmon when a roadside fire flared up beside them.
"Our house was full of smoke (this morning)," Julie Sickmond said. "We have ash in our car."
"We wanted to bail yesterday, but we didn't," Steve Sickmond said.
Both agreed with another resident passing by —the folks who live in Tate City are nervous.
After the road was closed to all but Tate City residents and firefighting personnel, Tate City resident Steve Harvey continued his pre-evacuation efforts. As he pulled his camper out onto Persimmon Road, he said he already brought his horse out. Shortly after, Towns County Fire and Rescue headed to Tate City to discuss pre-evacuation efforts with residents.
Forest Service firefighters were at a loss to attack the Rock Mountain Fire, which is burning on both sides of Tallulah River Road, so attention was focused on preventing it from reaching Tate City. By late Friday evening, the Forest Service estimated the Rock Mountain Fire had burned 900 acres of Rabun County woodland. On the west side of Tallulah River Road, the fire raged uncontained and unstaffed. Forest Service firefighters on scene at a temporary command post along Persimmon Road said no structures or human life was in danger of the uncontained fire on that side so long as it didn't jump Charlie's Creek. If the fire crosses Charlie's Creek, Tate City residents will have to evacuate.
The east side of Tallulah River Road was an altogether different story. Before 5 p.m. Friday, county officials called for the evacuation of residents along Coleman River Road closest to Tallulah River Road and of residents along Nichols Branch Road. The evacuation order affected 25 to 40 residences in the area, according to the sheriff's office. That side of the fire, previously called the Flat Branch Fire, had been reported as 40 percent contained Friday afternoon. But, as it was with the rest of the Rock Mountain Fire, steep terrain and shifting winds made fighting the blaze a virtual impossibility.
As Forest Service firefighters sought to gain any advantage in Persimmon, their counterparts in the Rabun County Fire Department were fighting a fire on Timber Bluff in the Rickman Airfield Road area. Rabun County Assistant Fire Chief Justin Upchurch said the Timber Bluff Fire was a rekindle of a previous grass fire. At around 5:40 p.m. Friday, firefighters returned to the site not far from where they fought a structure fire on Thursday. With the fire threatening structures in the area, the fight lasted all night. Most of the firefighting compliment sent to the area left by midnight, but a tanker remained in the area. By 7 a.m. Saturday, firefighters there were reporting that out of control winds overnight helped push the fire into ample fuel provided by the region's extreme drought.
Late Friday evening winds came in from the east, carrying with them fresh South Carolina air that pushed away much of the smoke that laid heavy throughout the county that had been brought in on winds from the North Carolina wildfires. It was a welcome respite for residents who had turned to using face masks when traveling as the smoke from the 13,000-plus acre Rough Ridge wildfire near Fannin County also impacted the area.
North Carolina's wildfires - roughly 20 of them burning more than 17,000 acres - and Rabun's Rock Mountain Fire and Highway 28 fire - a 30-acre fire also sparked Wednesday that shut down the highway between Warwoman Road and the Georgia/South Carolina state line until it was 100 percent contained by late Thursday -- were all cases of suspected arson. The Rabun County Sheriff's Office continues to seek the public's help in locating the suspected arsonist or arsonists who might have set these fires and at least one more Thursday in Warwoman Dell. Vehicle descriptions include a white Expedition, a Jeep Cherokee with stickers on the back and a dark blue SUV with a male driver. The public is asked to call 911 to report any suspicious activity or burning.
Burn bans have been issued by the county and the Forest Service. A notification from the Forest Service stated: "Due to extreme fire danger and the current drought situation, a total fire ban is in place on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. This means building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire (including charcoal based fire whether contained in a grill or not) is prohibited. Commercially available fuel stoves (camp stoves) are allowed."
The Clayton Tribune will provide real-time updates in this story as they are provided.