The massive wildfire that broke out last week in a wooded area near Elim Church Road left part of Long County in ruins; however, it appears to have strengthened the bond between area residents and neighboring communities.
As firefighters worked around the clock to bring the blaze under control and ensure evacuees’ safety, volunteers and county citizens praised the first responders’ efforts and tireless dedication.
Joe Houston, who lives on Elim Church Road, said firefighters saved his home.
“That fire got to within 10 feet of my house, but that lieutenant, Joe Kirouac, who was with the Hinesville Fire Department, told my wife she was going to sleep in her house that night and that they wouldn’t let fire get to it, and they didn’t,” Houston said Saturday at the command center that had been set up at the Long County Recreation Center.
“They did a wonderful job, and I want to give them credit for what they did and also everyone else who worked so hard.”
Long County resident Lynne Simpson, who helped feed workers at the command center throughout the ordeal, said, “I am thankful to all of the other counties who came over here and helped us. It was amazing what they did for us and they need to know if they ever need our help, we’ll be there for them.”
Mary Ann Mixon, who lives in Long County’s Jones Creek area, dropped off wet wipes, cough drops, dust masks and chewing gum Saturday at the Ludowici Church of God, which accepted donations for first responders, evacuees and others displaced by the fire.
“We have a wonderful volunteer department. They fought hard, hard, hard, giving the community all they had. Now we need to do it for them. The commissioners need to remember what they did this week, and when it comes time for money to be given out, our volunteer department needs to be taken care of,” Mixon said.
Meals also were prepared for firefighters and first responders at the Ludowici Church of God and other stations.
“We have been providing meals here, at the command center, for the firefighters, the police officers, the forestry workers, whoever was hungry,” church Pastor David Holton said.
“We would start getting low on food and then someone in the community or even from other areas would walk in, bringing more food. Some were old, some were young, but they all wanted to help and that’s what it’s all about.”
Charlie Smith, another Long County resident who nearly lost his home on Highway 84, spotted the fire on his way into town as he returned from a trip.
“I had just gotten back from Florida and as I was leaving Jesup, I could see the smoke. By the time I got to my house, the fire was all over the place,” he said. “If it wasn’t for deputy Shane Middleton and firefighter Chris Moss, I would have lost my house. The whole community has been helping each other, and that has been a fabulous thing to see.”
Long County commissioner and lifelong resident Cliff DeLoach said he was thankful for all the support from the surrounding areas and from those who responded in Long County. He said that as a commissioner, he plans to ask for more money in the budget next year to help the county’s fire department.
“It was great to see the community come together like they did — everyone working together — but I really take my hat off to all of the firefighters, EMTs and all of the other workers who literally saved my house and so many other people’s homes,” DeLoach said. “That’s what they did for me, and that’s what they did for you, so we all need to remember them when we see them out there with those rubber boots collecting money.”
Ludowici/Long County Fire Chief Darrell Ballance, who worked tirelessly from the fire’s onset until it was under control, praised everyone from Long County and the surrounding communities.
“We appreciate the outpouring of support from everyone, all of the other agencies who came over and helped us out and also all of the ones who helped take care of us,” he said. “A big pat on the back needs to go out to all of them — the churches, those who brought and prepared the food, the businesses, everyone. We just appreciate everyone who helped.”