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Ranger Morgan takes time for daily change

Every morning Reggie Morgan looks at the data that's been sent to his office and makes a decision.

But the District Six Chief Forest Ranger doesn't take his job lightly.

After all, every day he's the one who determines the fire risk in McDuffie County, and a Georgia Forestry Commission sign at the corner of Washington and Harrison road in Thomson showcases his choice from three potential risk classifications -- low, moderate and high.

His decision typically involves a mathematical model, taking into consideration everything from the how dry the grass and leaves are to how windy it is.

"We get a daily weather forecast, and our meteorologist figures up things like our fire situations and stuff, and we take into consideration the humidity, the wind and fuel moisture and those are computed together, and they have what they call a fuel model. They come up with a class day, where we class days from one to five, with class one being when there's very low risk, like when it's been raining. Then there's a class five day," he said.

When the class day is determined, the risk level is displayed on the sign in Thomson accordingly. Although data for McDuffie County is gathered from a weather station in Washington, day classifications are still formulated to serve the local area, and fire risk forecasts tend to vary greatly from county to county.

"Sometimes, if Washington has gotten rain or a small shower or something, their fuel moisture is going to increase," said Mr. Morgan. "Down in Thomson, they may have not gotten the shower, and the fuel moisture might be a lot lower, so it may be a worse day as far as fires go."

These days, forestry and public safety officials have their hands full dealing with the typically busy end of the fire season. But with deadly fires occurring in both McDuffie and Columbia counties recently, McDuffie County Fire Chief Bruce Tanner said that his unit has been busier than normal.

"This year has been one of the busiest years since I've been here for (brush) fires," he said. "We attribute a lot of it to the dry conditions of course, but also to the windy conditions."

The fire season typically starts in October, when the first freeze occurs and the leaves start falling, said Mr. Morgan. Dry leaves and grass on the ground are easy sources of fuel for small fires to become big ones.

"Naturally, we have more fires later in the fire season than early in the fire season," said Mr. Morgan, referring to the winds that usually strengthen during March.

The fire season ends sometime in April, usually when winds die down, and rain moisturizes the grass and leaves.

For now, Mr. Tanner said that people need to be especially careful if they plan on burning anything.

"People should never leave a fire unattended. Prepare before you actually light the fire. Make sure you've got plenty of help and water available to you. Even if you have a permit to burn, use common sense...if it's real windy outside, don't burn," he said.

Mr. Morgan also said that people need to maintain the outside of their homes to ensure full safety.

"Whenever there's a lot of litter close to the house, it always poses a problem in a situation where there is a wildfire. It could approach the house and possibly consume the house," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, April 1, 2004

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Temperature:53° F
Wind:from the W at 5 MPH
Visibility:10 miles
Dew Point:53° F
Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01

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