Since a powerful thunderstorm sent lightning bolts down to St. Catherines Island about two weeks ago, the island’s fire department has battled 10 remote blazes.
“We try to be patient with the fires and just try to keep them controlled,” island Superintendent Royce Hayes said. “Sometimes when they get really hot, you just have to wait on them.”
All 10 of the fires have been contained, and nine of them are out, Hayes said.
The remaining fire, burning woods at the island’s northern tip, likely is the one coastal residents have noticed, he added.
“We’ve had 10 fires, but we’ve probably seen 100 lightning strikes where trees were hit,” Hayes said.
The blazes have not damaged the island’s wells, power lines or structures, which include four staff houses, seven guest cabins, the Button Gwinnett House, barns and storage sheds, he said.
“In places where it’s doing what is a natural summer fire — a natural process that’s been going on for thousands of years — we let it go until it threatens something, and then we try to contain it,” Hayes said.
The St. Catherines Island Fire Department, which has two fire trucks, two bulldozers and fire plows, has built firebreaks, but it cannot stop the fire from spreading underground through tree roots and “smoldering like cigars underground,” he said.
“We sprayed down one tree trunk and saw smoke coming out of the ground 10 feet away,” Hayes said, referring to the fire’s underground effects.
Like the Terrell Mill Pond fire in Hinesville, Hayes anticipates that heavy rain is the only force that will completely stop the fires.