A massive wildfire that engulfed parts of Long County on Thursday and closed Highway 84 is 95 percent contained within firebreaks, according to Long County Emergency Management Agency Director Darrell Ballance and Ludowici/Long County Fire Department Assistant Chief Richard Truman. The officials estimate that more than 1,000 acres have burned, but could not say exactly how much land had been destroyed. Firefighters are still putting out hot spots and two helicopters are doing water drops, Truman said, although he did not know how long the water drops would continue.
“It might take a day, it might take a couple days,” he said. “It just depends.”
Hinesville Fire Department Chief Lamar Cook said Thursday that fire departments from Liberty, Bryan, McIntosh and Brantley counties sent firefighters to help the Ludowici-Long County Fire Department. Fort Stewart’s forestry branch sent four personnel, two tractor/plow units and one pickup truck to assist the firefighters, Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said.
Authorities say the fire began Thursday afternoon in a wooded area near Elim Church Road and quickly spread to the thickly forested land off Highway 84, which public safety officials closed due to zero visibility. The cause of the fire still is unknown; however, an investigation will be conducted, Truman said.
The fire jumped Highway 84 on Thursday evening and ignited land on the other side of the road. Residents in several neighborhoods, Coastal Manor Nursing Home and the Long Pre-Release Center were evacuated, officials said. All Long County schools were closed Friday and Long County High School was used to house evacuees. The assistant chief said evacuees in most areas have returned to their homes, but Coastal Manor residents will not be allowed back yet “because of health risks associated with smoke inhalation for that age group.”
At a 1 p.m. briefing Friday, firefighters learned one occupied home and two unoccupied homes were destroyed by the blaze, Truman said, and several other structures were damaged by the blistering heat. Officials still are surveying the damage.
“It's been a miracle (that not more occupied homes burned),” Long County Commissioner Wallace Shaw said. “We were keying in on occupied homes.”
He said from information he has received so far, authorities do not believe the fire was started by a controlled burn.
“If it was a controlled burn, it was one that was several days old that reignited. They (Georgia Forestry) haven’t issued burn permits in several days.”
First responders are operating out of a command center set up at the Long County Recreation Center, Truman said.
Fire victims who need help also can call the First Baptist Church of Ludowici at 690-0918. Anyone who would like to drop off money, clothes, food or other supplies to help Long County residents who have been evacuated or lost their homes can drop off donations at the Coastal Courier, 125 S. Main St., Hinesville.
The Courier will continue to follow this story and provide updates as information becomes available.
Courier correspondent Mike Riddle contributed to this report.