"Till It Rains, Snows or Jesus Comes Back": Drought Wildfires keep GFC Hopping

Judy Hildebrand took this shot of the latest Dade wildfire from her Scenic Highway home earlier in the week. The blaze is now contained.

The Georgia Forestry Commission reported on Thursday that it had a wildfire on Scenic Highway atop Lookout Mountain 95 percent contained. "They're mopping it up right now," said Ranger Bobby Dunn.

Dunn said about 80 acres in all had burned on Scenic Highway. "I believe it is all on private land, right across from Fox Trail Road," he said. "We got the first phone call around 9:30, 10 o'clock Sunday night and it was already actively burning off the bluff."

GFC rangers did what they could Sunday night, then hit the wildfire with heavy equipment and manpower when day broke on Monday. The GFC had assistance from jumper crews from out West, said Dunn, as well as hand and engine crews from all over Georgia.

Dunn, interviewed Thursday at the Georgia Forestry Commission office on Highway 11 South, said the other three Dade County GFC rangers from the Dade office were at the fire along with the incident commander and other visiting firefighters assigned to the blaze.

Meanwhile, Dunn was joined at the office by four other GFC rangers from points south, all of them on call for -- whatever comes next. The Fox Mountain fire in south Dade that brought an 80-strong firefighting team to Rising Fawn earlier in the month is still smoldering on both sides of the Georgia/Alabama border, said Dunn, though it is 100 percent contained now. That blaze consumed 2083 acres on Fox, and the GFC is pretty sure that's just the beginning. "The whole state's burning," said Dunn.

Steve Helton, a GFC ranger from Newnan, said he'd heard in a report on Wednesday that there were 70 fires in Georgia on that day alone. He, Dunn and the other rangers said conditions are dry all over the state, though the other regions are so far not as riddled with wildfire as the northwest.

Georgia Forestry Commission rangers from all over the state are stationed in Dade for "the duration." From left are Steve Helton, Newnan; Dade County's own Bobby Dunn; Rachel Saunders, Gray; Roger Polluck, Cordele; and Zack Ledbetter, Dawsonville.

Helton and the other rangers are stationed here as part of multiple task forces assigned to the Coosa region of the state to deal with wildfires during this extreme drought that has made such blazes all but inevitable. "Task Force 1 and 2 were working in Rome on the Rome fires they were having off 27, and if we break out a big fire up here we get a task force assigned to us," said Dunn. He said the local ICP--that's Incident Command Post-- is in Gordon County.

The firefighters seemed to be digging matter-of-factly in for the long haul, waiting patiently for the next crisis, but Dunn denied there was anything "normal" about this year's wildfire season. It was starting ominously early, before the leaves were even off the trees, he said, and never in his six years with GFC had he seen this number of firefighters or this much equipment coming to Dade.

But he agreed about the long haul part. The Georgia Forestry Commission's busy season would continue, he said, "Till we get some rain, snow or Jesus comes back."

The GFC has made no comment to The Planet thus far as to how either fire started, except that establishing causation is generally not a priority until the flames are out.

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