Wildfires continue to burn is South Georgia as dry conditions and high winds complicate firefighting efforts. As of this morning the wildfires in the Ware County, Georgia area have burned 100,000 plus acres and continues to threaten area homes. A Mandatory evacuation order was issued for Tuesday, May 8th for 20 more homes in the Davis Community, 8 miles west of Folkston Georgia. Shelters are available and residents are advised to see shelter until further notice.
The blaze which begun on April 16th continues claiming more land putting people and animals at risk. Obstacles continue to prevent an easy containment of the fire, including the fact that swamp fires are inaccessible to a lot of firefighting equipment. Helicopters and ‘drops’ which could be engaged for such types of fire have continued to be hindered by high winds in the area. Much of the fire is in the area known as the Okefenokee Swamp and has been sending forth thick clouds of smoke which have been see as far away as Atlanta and Chattanooga Tennessee. Smoke being blown in on the high wind currents is being reported well into south into Florida.
From a personal perspective, a nephew who lives in the Orlando Florida area called tonight to say the thick smoke from the Georgia wildfires was cause continued traffic and air quality problems there. Private airstrips have been closed due to lack of visibility in landing. Normal routines in and around Ware County Georgia continue to be disrupted as more than 800 firefighters from across the state continue battling back the blaze.
People are not the only displaced residents from the area. As fire continues to destroy acres within the Okefenokee Swamp, the rich variety of wildlife is threatened and displaced gators and other swampland creatures are being pushed out of their normal habitat. Firefighters who are already overworked and having to be aware of winds and fire, must also be aware a very real danger from displaced wildlife including poisonous snakes such as the cottonmouth moccasin, the eastern back rattlesnake and the rarely seen but deadly coral snake. While sightings of these snakes are rare even in such extreme conditions, the danger exists as more critters from the swamp are pushed out by the spreading blaze.
While this this April 16th fire is believed to have started when a tree fell across a power line, Arson is the second largest cause of wildfire in Georgia, accounting for upwards to 18% of all wildfires in the state. Any suspected arson activities is investigated and prosecuted under the full extent of the law. There is a statewide ban against any fires until further notice. Even those holding ‘year-round burning permits’ are
Not being allowed to burn until further notice at this time.
Even for those miles away from the actual area of the fire, smoke can pose serious health problems.
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma and lung disease ( COPD);
Older adults and young children are at higher risk.
Take precautions especially if you are already at risk due to already existing health problems. Some tips to help keep you safe if there is a large amount of smoke in the air include:
Staying inside with windows and doors shut. Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home .
If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
Avoid physical exertion.
Keep at least a five-day supply of medication on hand so you don’t need to go out until smoke levels decrease.
Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue.
Smoke can “unmask” heart and lung disease so if you experience any difficulty breathing or have chest pains for any length of time, seek medical attention immediately.This is important for not only for people with chronic lung or heart disease, but also for individuals who have not been previously diagnosed with such illnesses.
Keep airways moist by drinking lots of water.
With the early dry season and summer just around the corner with more hot, dry windy weather there will continue to be an increased risk for fires. Please exercise caution. Do not start unnecessary fires to burn leaves or brush. Do not leave grills unattended, some communities are even banning cooking out until further notice!
If you witness acts of arson, or know of anyone involved in such crimes. Take steps to report it to the authorities immediately. Our firefighters put their lives on the line daily, don’t let someone’s thoughtless acts endanger lives needlessly.
Thank you to Carlos Nelson for providing the photos included with this article.
Georgia Forestry Commision: ‘Fire Situation Report’.
May 8, 2007. 2:30 P.M. – EDT.