North Georgia is experiencing the worst drought that most can remember with many areas not having seen rain for up to 52 days. The extremely dry conditions, low humidity, constant winds coupled with the normal leaf fall creates a tinder box with only one spark needed to set off a wildfire that will consume everything in its path. We had a small brush fire today caused by a squirrel on a power line. Fires have been started by trailer safety chains dragging on the road and farm machinery hitting rocks which cause sparks.
Many of the nation’s largest active wildfires Thursday were burning in the southern Appalachian Mountains, where a relentless drought has turned pine trees into torches and forced evacuations in dozens of communities. More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to try to suppress these fires. The effort includes about 40 aircraft, including three large air tankers flying out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tens of thousands of acres of forest have burned, and about a dozen of the largest fires were uncontained. High winds and temperatures and weeks without rain have combined to spark blaze after blaze in the unusually dry landscape. Numerous teams reported wind-driven fires racing up slopes and down ravines as they struggled to protect hundreds of threatened structures.
For weeks, up here we’ve been having smoke, but it is getting more intense as conditions worsen. Typically, the views in the mountains stretch for miles, but now, in some areas you can hardly see to the next ridge. Thursday’s national drought report shows 41.6 million people in parts of 15 Southern states living in drought conditions. The worst is in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, but extreme drought also is spreading into the western Carolina’s while Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are fighting their own fierce fires. Right now, they’re kind of holding their own and could get control over some of the smaller fires, but with humidity so low in the normally lush Appalachians and Great Smoky Mountains, authorities are bracing for more.
North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, declared a State of Emergency for a fourth of his state’s 100 counties, to help with evacuations and provide more firefighting assets. More than 560 firefighters and staff from at least 40 states were battling 18 blazes in the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, and the state climatologist said some counties are having one of their driest years in 105 years of record-keeping. Additional crews, engines, helicopters and air tankers continue to arrive from across the country to help with the firefighting effort.
Kentucky authorities made two arson arrests and cited another man for causing a brush fire by defying a burn ban. Tennessee authorities also reported arrests for arson and burning violations. Smoke blowing southward has blanketed Atlanta and other cities in haze as far as middle Georgia. Alabama extended its burn ban throughout the state, where drought is choking 80 percent of the land, drying up streams and lakes and turning plants to tinder. Firefighters in Alabama have battled more than 1,100 fires that have charred nearly 12,000 acres in the last month. Tuscaloosa and Birmingham have both tied or broken records for days without measurable rain; neither has had more than sprinkles since late September. And Noccalula Falls, a popular attraction on Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama, has been bone dry for weeks. The creek is dry and there’s not even a trickle going over the falls.
One of the largest blazes was spreading rapidly in the Cohutta Wilderness area just south of the Georgia-Tennessee line. Nearly 300 people are battling that fire, which already consumed 10,000 acres, the US Forest Service said. In the hills outside Chattanooga, firefighters were trying to save homes on both Signal Mountain and Mowbray Mountain. They may get reinforcements: The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would reimburse most of one fire’s costs after a request from Tennessee. “Winds are expected to strengthen in the short term, so we may see some increases in activity over the weekend,” said Shardul Raval, director of fire and aviation management for the southern region of the U.S. Forest Service.
Drought conditions also are persisting in parts of the Florida panhandle and portions of Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana and Missouri, per the Drought Monitor from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. If there was ever a time to be Firewise in and around our communities, it is right now. With no rain in the forecast for a while conditions will only continue to worsen and the wildfire risk will become more intense, so think before you do any kind of outdoor activity that might create a spark because you could be the cause of the next wildfire that we have been telling you would happen sooner or later.
Think about your surroundings and be careful because if you are the cause of a wildfire, you could be presented with the bill for all those firefighters, bulldozers and air tankers.
Just imagine how much a C-130 costs to fly!
For more information on the wildfire situation contact your local State Forestry office, the US Forest Service or Frank Riley, Executive Director of the Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.