Where’s the fire?
That’s what smoke-filled skies have made many Coastal Georgia residents wonder in the past few weeks.
“Everybody’s freaking out, but it’s coming from Waycross,” Long County/Ludowici firefighter Trey Combs said.
Thanks to recent rains, Long County, which had more than 9,000 acres ablaze earlier this year, has not seen fires in some time, he said. Neither has Liberty County.
And that’s good news for those who plan to light fireworks this holiday weekend. David Duke, chief ranger of the Liberty County and Midway Georgia Forestry Commission, said that while his agency is not currently issuing burn permits, it is not prohibiting fireworks.
“We’re just asking everybody to be real careful,” he said. “That’s about the best we can do.”
But burn bans remain in effect in other Southeast Georgia regions, where fires in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge’s Honey Prairie and surrounding areas more than 50 miles southwest of Hinesville are to blame for our smoky hazes. The blazes, which began with an April 28 lightning strike and together have claimed more than 653,602 acres, now are 70 percent contained, according to John Nichols, a spokesman with the Joint Information Center.
“The fire’s not out, but they’ve been able to do really good work to thin the fire line,” he said. Rains there also have helped to dampen the blaze, which has not grown in three days.
“Thunderstorms are good and bad,” he said. “You want the rain … The bad part is that if there’s not much rain with the particular cell that’s coming through, you have the potential for fire starts from lightning strikes.”
The agency, composed of operations, logistics and firefighting personnel from 46 states, emphasizes that while the fire’s impact has been decreased, the urgency is not over, he said. The refuge still is closed to the public, and people are urged to stay away from the smoke.
“The bottom line is if you’ve got young children, elderly, anyone with breathing problems, get ’em out of the smoke,” Nichols said.
But what if they can’t get away from it?
Sally Silbermann, risk communicator for the Coastal Health District, said there are no long-term effects of breathing in smoke from wildfires, but people with respiratory diseases may be more negatively affected in the short term.
To avoid smoke-related complications, people should stay inside with windows and doors shut, use the re-circulate mode on their air-conditioners and avoid cooking and vacuuming, which can increase pollutants indoors.
People can reduce the discomforts of smoke by drinking a lot of water, which will keep airways moist, she said.