Rains Help Wildfire Situation, but It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Monday night's rains helped the Dade County wildfire situation a lot but firefighters agree that the fat lady has not yet quite sung.

"We're 21 inches below normal rain, almost 22, so a little inch or half-inch of rain isn't going to be enough to put out the burning," said Heath Morton, chief ranger at the Trenton office of the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC). "Especially on the sides of those mountains that hadn't burned in a couple of hundred years."

Hannah Cowart, information officer at the central GFC office, said that rainfall had been variable not just depending on where you were in Georgia but on where you were in Dade County. "We got reports of anywhere between half an inch and just over an inch," she said. But she added that the commission had high hopes of the the weather system coming in tonight that's predicted to bring more rain to northwest Georgia over the next few days.

Meanwhile, last night's showers did anyway help remedy what seemed to the layman a worsening of the wildfires on Monday. "We did have a number of reburns yesterday due to the high winds," said Ms. Cowart. The commission received reports from residents of increased smoke in some areas, she said. "Where we could, we patrolled those," she said. "Some of them were more remote so we just monitored them."

Chief Ranger Morton agreed that that was the situation at Tatum Gulf. "It was actually from reburns in places where you just can't get bodies or humans to," he said.

He said that the Monday rains had helped keep the fires from spreading, and Ms. Cowart agreed: "Things have quieted down today significantly."

Overall, Morton described the fire situation as fairly rosy. "Tatum Gulf is not fully contained, it's at 80 percent, but everything else is looking really good," he said.

Morton referred to the five smaller wildfires in the county, all of which are considered fully contained if not actually quenched.

In any case, he said, he and his staff have been pulled off the job. GFC has sent them home and turned the mop-up over to the 68 or so out-of-town firefighters stationed in the area. "They're making the local guys take some time off," said Morton. "Bobby and Ted are not coming back until like Jan. 3. I don't come back until Dec. 28."

He and his guys will remain on call, said Morton, but they won't return to the office until personnel rules are satisfied. "We don't get paid overtime, we get compensation time and they want us to burn it," he explained.

The cap for comp time is 80 hours, explained Morton. After two months of wildfires, he and his staffers are at 3- and 400 hours, he said.

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