I have been telling you for several years that it’s not a matter of IF a wildfire will happen in your neighborhood but WHEN!
WHEN finally came to our area recently with the Rock Mountain fire near Tate City and in the Upper Hightower Creek area. Even though most of us didn’t have wildfire directly around our houses, we could smell and see the smoke from a big fire right here in Towns county. When conditions are like they were, Firewise (Ready) preparations can help, but Set & Go are our only options to take. In fact, when conditions are like that, GO is our only option. If you are not Ready or Set by then it’s too late for planning, so Go somewhere to get out of harm’s way. The problem with this is everybody else in the neighborhood is also trying to get out and Go somewhere which creates traffic jams and accidents. Getting trapped in a traffic jam with smoke and fire rushing toward your car is not a good place to be because nobody can rescue you and you are stuck with all the other folks who waited too late to Go. It is very important to choose a pre-determined destination to gather and meet with friends and family so everybody can be accounted for. This will keep rescue personnel from having to go back to your home to look for someone who is somewhere else. Don’t wait for the next fire, get READY now because it will happen again, be Firewise, and be on guard for changing conditions.
The recent Rock Mountain fire started in Rabun county and moved around Tate City into the Upper Hightower Creek area and was contained on US Forest Service lands. Thanks to hard work by the 679 Forest Service firefighters from all over the country, the fire was stopped before it could do damage to private property in Towns County, although Towns County’s finest were staged and on alert all during the incident in case it came out of the forest. The fire continued to burn into North Carolina and back to Rabun County. After heavy downpours in the North Georgia mountains the fires were 63% contained on December 1st. The USFS estimates that the fires will be 100% contained on December 15th. As of December 1st, the fire had torched 24,725 acres with approximately 12,962 acres in Georgia and 11,763 acres in North Carolina that includes 11,111 acres in Rabun County, 1,851 in Towns County, with 3,860 in Clay County and 7,903 in Macon County. The preliminary cost estimate for suppression is somewhere around $10 million. The rain helped pause these fires to give the suppression personnel a short break, but without sufficient amounts and timely rainfall for the next few weeks, the drought conditions and fire danger will continue because without significant amounts of more rain this fire could happen again because logs, dead trees and stumps continue to hold heat and can reignite leaves at any point and all it will take is wind, a hot ember, and a dry place for it to land and there it goes again.
Last week, the Chimney Tops 2 fire blew up near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. With historically bone dry conditions, low humidity, and hurricane like winds, the folks in Gatlinburg didn’t have a chance no matter what they had done to be Ready and Set so the only option they had was Go. If only they could Go along with everybody else in town and their nightmare only got worse with the traffic jams. The fire threatened, damaged, or destroyed many of the resorts in and around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, with 7 confirmed fatalities and over 700 confirmed structures lost (as of December 1st). The Chimney Tops 2 Fire started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg with the wildfire burning in a remote location of the park in steep terrain with vertical cliffs and narrow rocky ridges making access to the wildfire area difficult for firefighting efforts. On Monday, November 27th, continuous exceptional drought conditions and extreme winds (80 mph) caused the wildfire to grow rapidly, causing numerous new wildfire starts from embers carried miles away and downed powerlines in and adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As of December 1, the burned area covered 17,108 acres, with minimal containment at that time. The wildland incident resources were 9 crews, 20 engines, 7 helicopters, 4 dozers, 285 total personnel with more being mobilized from other fires to try to contain this very destructive wildfire. Structure protection was by local fire departments.
Chimney Tops 2 and Rock Mountain fires are both determined to be human-caused and are currently under investigation. Let these fires be a very loud wake-up call for all of us. It DID happen here and WILL happen here again! So be Firewise and practice Ready-Set-Go.
For up to date information on all fires on US Forest Service lands, go to: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident and for information on Firewise, Ready-Set-Go and other wildfire/evacuation programs. Contact Frank Riley, Executive Director, Chestatee-Chattahoochee RC&D at firstname.lastname@example.org.