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A burning issue: Rash of fires sparks concerns

High winds and low humidity sparked a rash of brush fires in McDuffie County last week. According to Fire Chief Bruce Tanner, his crews responded to 10 brush fires during the week of March 12. The Thomson Fire Department even monitored an unexpected debris fire at the recycling center on Friday and through the weekend.


Chief Ranger Hal Sharpe monitors a woods fire off Pylant Crossing last week.

The number of fires isn't any higher than normal for this time of year, according to Hal Sharpe, chief ranger of the Georgia Forestry Commission's McDuffie/Warren unit. But officials are asking the public to use common sense when burning trash and debris.

Ranger Sharpe said people shouldn't burn when the wind speed is 12 mph or more. He added that even if residents attain a burn permit from the Forestry Commission, they should burn in the morning when the humidity is higher and check in with his office to see if burning is safe for a particular day.

"We have a meteorologist of our own that gives us what we call a fire weather forecast, and it's got the wind speed, the humidity and the drought index," Ranger Sharpe said. "If they can call us and get the weather, we can tell them what kind of fire behavior to expect."


A bulldozer cuts a second fire break in an effort to stop the fire on Pylant Crossing last Friday.

Chief Tanner advised residents planning to burn debris to wait until it rains and the wind isn't blowing, something difficult during the windy pre-spring weeks. He also said to clear debris away from the house and stay with the fire.

That warning comes in light of the tragedy on County Line Road earlier this month when 63-year-old Douglas Johnson died after an unattended debris fire spread to his home.

"I hear so many times that I went inside for just a few minutes and come back out, and it was gone,'" Ranger Sharpe said. "If they stay with's pretty simple. It just takes a little common sense."

Other warnings Chief Tanner gave were to make sure to have a rake, shovel and water hose nearby to keep the fire contained. He also said to put the fires out completely before dark.

When burning large plots, officials advise residents to coordinate with the Forestry Commission so that preventative fire breaks can be plowed. Also residents should notify the fire department which may be able to have a truck standing by.

According to Ranger Sharpe, arson is suspected in a couple of the recent brush fires in McDuffie County, but overall the number one cause of that type of fire is still debris burning that gets out of hand.

Chief Tanner said no buildings were damaged in the recent fires, but several were threatened.

"We try to get ahead of them and cut them off, usually with some type of water. We don't generally do back fires." Chief Tanner said. "The Georgia Forestry will plow breaks, and we can kind of try to hold it off until they get there and get the breaks plowed."

He added that the number of fires was normal for a typical busy year.

So far, this year has been one of those busy years. That is because the last two years in comparison were wetter than normal.

Web posted on Thursday, March 23, 2006

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