Wildfires Once Again Grip County

Bobby Dunn (second from left) with other GFC firefighters in a file shot from last fall's rampant wildfires. The GFC and all Dade's volunteer fire departments swung back into action on Monday.

It was deja vu all over again on Monday as wildfires once again filled the skies over Trenton with blinding smoke. Two wildfires, one in Middleton Estates and the other in North Dade at Highway 299, raged out of control most of the afternoon, keeping the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) and every one of Dade's volunteer fire departments hopping.

"What people need to understand is that we're still in an extreme drought," said GFC ranger Bobby Dunn. "Yes, we're issuing burn permits, but people need to use extreme caution when they burn."

Dunn said the Middleton Estates fire, which started off Whispering Pines Road in the early afternoon, was initially a controlled burn for which the landowner did have a burn permit. "He was burning leaves in a ditch," said Dunn.

But the flames quickly blazed out of control, said Dunn, threatening about seven of the Middleton Estate houses though none suffered damage in the end.

Dunn said conditions like the weather we are currently enjoying is perfect for spreading fire. The trees are left dry from last autumn's long drought and the fresh March wind whips the flames onward.

Dunn said the Middleton Estates fire eventually burned some 25 acres. Not only did GFC fight the flames but so did the Trenton, West Brow, New Salem, Davis, New Home and South Dade fire departments--every one but the North Dade FD, which was busy helping Dunn with the Highway 299 fire in Wildwood.

The Wildwood fire, said Dunn, was started accidentally by the railroad doing track maintenance. The maintenance crews have mobile units built to run on the tracks that can scrape surfaces flat and spray water on them. In this case, said Dunn, it is believed that the sparks set off by this maintenance car set off the wildfire, which ultimately consumed about 43 acres. Three houses were threatened by that blaze, he said, but no damage was reported. Dunn said the firefighters wrapped up there about 1 a.m.

Dunn ended his report with more warnings to the public. This is a case where wildfires are breeding wildfires, he said: GFC firefighters had recently attended a class in Rome, Ga., where they learned that trees and the land itself, damaged by previous wildfires, are more vulnerable to future ones.

Hillsides long parched are left unable to absorb water when it does rain, said Dunn, so rainwater slides down the hills instead of sinking into the slopes. The living trees are similarly damaged by drought and earlier fires. "They're not taking in water like they're supposed to," said Dunn.

Readers may obtain burn permits, or more information, by calling the GFC at (706) 657-4211, or visiting its website, gfc.state.ga.us .

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