Fire as an element, draws from us our more primordial fears, and baser desires. We run with terror from its’ bite, or draw in close to take in its’ warmth. Since the dawn of time, fire has been the great equalizer of our ecosystems. When the forest canopy becomes too lush, or the forest floor becomes littered with leaves and dead wood, fire can be instrumental in returning balance to the ecosystem.
Currently North Georgia is experiencing wide spread drought. Rainfall is thirteen inches below state average, and water levels have become extremely low. The lush forest around us have become dry, brittle, and dangerous. From careless cigarette smokers to new campers, there have now been a reported 38 large wildfires in North Georgia, mostly brought about by the error of people. At current standings, the state of Georgia has spent over ten million dollars in its fight against the wildfires. Over six thousand fire fighters from all over the country have answered the call for aid in putting out the hundred and twenty five thousand plus acres of fires. In 2015 there were almost fifty-nine thousand human caused wildfires in the United States. Despite the valiant efforts of our amazing fire fighters, we lost over two million acres of forest last year.
While North Georgia has experienced many wildfires in this latest outbreak, we have been fortunate that most have been regulated to the wilder areas of the state. Thankfully there has been little structural loss and no loss of life from the wildfires as of yet. Unfortunately, just north of us in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, wildfires have ravaged the forest around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The day before the much needed rain fall winds reached up to eighty-seven miles an hour on the mountain. Hurricane force winds pushed the fire down the mountain and into the city. During the evening hours of Nov. 28, 2016 more than one hundred and fifty structures were destroyed. Many of which were homes and hotels. More than fourteen thousand people have been evacuated, with over two thousand people in Red Cross shelters. Sadly, at this point we know at least seven people have lost their lives. Fire crews are still not able to completely clear all the areas touched by the fire and that number sadly, may increase.
The men and women at the U.S. Forestry Service Commission do an amazing job every single day, making sure that they are doing everything they can to both protect our natural forest, and protect the people and businesses around them. Just one of the ways they protect the forest is by using Prescribed Fire. Controlled burns, otherwise known as “prescribed fire”, is a way to manage dry undergrowth and dead leaves on the forest floor. Prescribed fires rob future wildfires of fuel, and help enrich the nutrients in the soil promoting new growth on the forest floor. Clearing efforts like these can also help cut down on the amount of time it takes to contain a wildfire. With the U.S. Forestry Service Commission doing everything they can to provide safe and well managed national parks, we as park visitors, should do our part as well.
Here are some helpful tips when building a camp fire that will keep you and the forest safe.
- When selecting a fire pit location make sure you are at least fifteen feet away from tent walls, shrubs, trees, or anything that might catch fire.
- Make sure the pit area is level and clear of debris.
- Make sure the wind in the spot you have chosen is calm.
(Wind gust can make your fire uncontrollable and can quickly get out of hand.)
- Dig your pit about one foot into the ground, and circle the mouth with stones.
- Always remember to check with your campsite or the U.S. Forestry Commission to see if you are allowed to have a fire at the time you plan on camping.
- Make sure that any fire you build is kept low and out of the wind. This will help keep the embers down.
- Never for any reason leave a fire unattended or hot. Make sure you pour water on the fire until it stops hissing.
It is imperative for anyone who spends time in our national parks and forests to understand the importance of fire management. The U.S. Forestry Department has a fantastic interactive website at SmokeyBear.com. This is an amazing resource that will not only help you stay safe, but also help you protect the beautiful forests of North Georgia.