Wednesday, April 18, 2007

South Georgia fires burn out of control

I get HUGE candles on my birthday!

Wildfires are burning out of control in southern Georgia. I had to go out of town for a few hours on business, and these are the photos I shot upon re-entering the small town of Waycross, Georgia, where I am now living. Our little town is looking (and smelling) more and more like Hades these past couple of days.

Reports are saying almost 30,000 acres of forest now burn, and the fire is not yet under control.

Here's the latest report from our little paper:

Wildfire Situation Improves
'Obediah's' Saved! But Fire Nowhere Near Containment, Officials Warn
By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
A goal-line stand at Obediah's Okefenok' by firefighters late Tuesday saved the historic homestead and tourist attraction from destruction ... but some homes in the Swamp Road area were not as fortunate, said Ware County Emergency Management Agency director Jonathan Daniell.
"The firemen did a goal-line defense around Obediah's Tuesday night," Daniell said, "and were able to save it."
Daniell said that inasmuch as the southern tip of the head of the large wildfire has now crossed Swamp Road, it isn't as much of a threat to civilization as it has been.
"Since the fire has gone past Obediah's, that was the end of the populated area," he said.
All in all, the bottom line news at daybreak was good. Winds had calmed and the fast-moving "monster fire" had slowed, However, officials cautioned, the fire is nowhere near containment and its projected line of progress today isn't known to any degree of precision.
"We are holding our ground, pending what the wind direction does today," said Ware County Fire Chief Jimmy Brown. "It could be (from the) southwest direction which would cause more evacuation. We also don't know how much it is going to pick up (wind speed)."
The number of Swamp Road homes charred by the fire is not known. At least 10 homes countywide have been destroyed or damaged by the fire, Daniell said. He had no precise locations.
A wind change today, could cause the fire to turn around, Daniell said. At 9 a.m., a light and variable wind ‹ first from the northeast, then from the west, then the southwest ‹ was measured at about 5 mph. Wind speed was expected to increase somewhat today.
At 7 o'clock this morning, the head of the fire was continuing its path into the depths of the Okefenokee Swamp, moving away from populated areas of the county.
"The head of the fire has crossed Swamp Road; the upper end is at Double Branches and the southern tip of the fire is burning in the vicinity of Obediah's Okfenok', heading its way into the Dixon Memorial Forest and into the wildlife refuge," Daniell said.
Georgia Forestry officials said 1,000 homes were evacuated Tuesday as the fire continued its path of destruction. Yet only 39 people spent the night at the Waycross Middle School American Red Cross shelter (about 100 stayed there Monday night).
Some evacuees have been allowed to return to their homes, officials said, although most have not. Officials have set up a public information number (287-4467) for citizens to call with any questions related to the fire. People who have been forced to evacuate their homes are being asked to call it they are seeking information about when they will be allowed to return.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, it was reported that more than 19,000 acres have been destroyed by the fire.
"This will go into the history books of wildland fires in Georgia," said Frank Sorrells, district ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission in Ware County. "We're pulling equipment and personnel in from all over Georgia to put out this dangerous fire and more are on standby."
Sorrells added that the fire now measures 11 miles long and one mile wide. He added that other fires have burned an additional 3,000 acres in Brantley (see page 2) and Wayne counties, but that those fires have largely been contained.
Sorrells said this morning that "some fair progress" was made over night on the south end of the fire.
"We anticipate a wind change, taking an easterly flow, that could blow the fire back toward the west," Sorrells said. "This fire is not under any measurable containment."
One fireman with the Waycross Fire Department was injured Tuesday afternoon when he was hit by a truck near Ruskin School . Daniell identified the firefighter as Thomas Haddock, a veteran with the Waycross Fire Department.
Haddock had surgery Tuesday and more was scheduled for this morning. Haddock is expected to survive his injuries, which include a broken leg.
Haddock's brethren ‹ his fellow city of Waycross firemen and the firefighting fraternity in general ‹ are with him in spirit. The firefighting family, as one fireman put it, "is just a big team, a brotherhood, "and when one hurts they all hurt. But when the need arises, they are all ready to help.
"The mood of our firemen is that they are all eager to go," said Waycross Fire Department Battalion Chief Morris Clark. "They are chomping at the bit. From the time they called us to help, they have all been ready. We have had two units on the scene at all times with seven to 10 from the city on duty all the time. We are seeing great cooperation and everyone has just joined together for one common goal."
Sorrells said firefighters will continue to use aerial resources including several Georgia National Guard Chinook helicopters and smaller choppers and three c-130 airplanes dropping fire retardant material.
He said firefighting resources from Florida came in Tuesday afternoon to help fight a fire that started near Fargo. (At mid-morning, unofficial word came that Fargo was being evacuated. Confirmation could not immediately be made.)
Sorrells expects firefighters from Mississippi and Louisiana, and possibly North Carolina, sometime today.
"We will know later in the morning just how many are coming and what kind of resources we will have," Sorrells said. "This is a 'complex' of fires, not just one fire that we're dealing with."
His reference was to other southeast Georgia fires, one of which started near Fargo at mid-afternoon Tuesday. The influx of new personnel from states west of Georgia, possibly including Alabama, is likely to be spread out from Fargo to Waycross to Brantley County (and to Jesup and Long County).
"Georgia Forestry was able to do a lot of work overnight and made some headway," Daniell said. "They took a lot of plows in there and got a lot of plowing done. The fire departments worked during the night to put out hot spots and keep the fires from re-igniting."
Daniell said the entire area is still extremely smoky. He said U.S. 84 remains closed, as do Carswell Avenue Extension (Georgia 122) and Swamp Road. In spite of some rumors, U.S. 1 remains open.
Officials said other rumors that aren't true include one about Baptist Village being endangered. It is under no fire threat.
Daniell said Waycross Middle School continues to be the official shelter for those displaced by the fire. Ware County Schools were closed again today to students.
"And all the motels around are full (because of the evacuations)," he said. "We called Tuesday night trying to find a room for someone and there was not one available. We couldn't get a room."
Brown and Waycross Fire Chief Cedric Scott both were on their feet for 48 hours without stopping, Clark said, and both were taking a well-deserved rest early this morning. Brown reported in at about 8:30 and immediately made his way to a briefing.
"Only the good Lord knows what will happen," he said following the briefing. "People's lives is our priority and we will do our best to protect them."
"Both Chief Brown and Chief Scott had been up for 48 hours," Clark said.
A request for state and federal "fire disaster funds" for southeast Georgia was issued Tuesday, officials said. An answer was to arrive by this afternoon, it was anticipated.

The swamp, the swamp, the swamp is on fi-ya...


No comments: