Low humidity fuels wildfire danger

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May 2, 2007

Schools in Coffee County were closed today because of dense smoke that's blanketing southeast Georgia. Gov. Perdue says he will continue to seek federal money to offset the high cost of fighting the wildfire there.

It is the largest wildfire ever recorded in Georgia, and it has scorched 87 thousand acres of land. 21 homes have been destroyed, and several smaller fires have broken out close to the large fire.

More than 800 firefighters have been working to contain the giant fire, and local crews are heading south to help control the fire.

Four from the Augusta-Richmond County department packed their bags today. They're headed to Jesup, in Wayne County, to help crews already down there.

Two from Martinez-Columbia also headed out to replace two others who were already there.

Two rangers from the forestry commission are also in South Georgia.

While local firefighters are trying to get the South Georgia blaze under control, forest rangers warn that because of the weather, it could also happen here.

And now they say even the leaves that don't usually burn are becoming a hazard.

"Forest fires can be very hard to stop, with low humidity, high winds, and dry conditions," said Chief Ranger Senior Steve Abbott.

We've already seen proof of that with yesterday's brush fire off I-20 near Martintown Road.

The rain isn't falling and there's very little moisture in the air. Fires slow when the humidity is higher, in the 50s. Right now, we're in the 20s.

In these conditions, fires can spread quickly. In a controlled environment, the fire department showed us what can happen.

Chief Danny Kuhlmann of Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue explained how a small spark can destroy an entire area.

"We just lit two, three needles, and we burned up three square feet of pine straw," he said.

And the entire area burned in just one minute.

Chief Kuhlmann says the problem is the green stuff. Usually green leaves have a lot of moisture, and they tend to slow the blaze. But the dry weather has dried that moisture right out.

Here's what that means for your back yard:

"If someone was burning and the wind picked up, it could get out of control real fast," Chief Kuhlmann said.

Ranger Abbott says the small stuff, like pine needles, ignite quickly. The bigger stuff takes a little longer, but it also burns longer and larger.

"In rural areas, the yards are bigger, there's more vegetation, more woods...fires are just bigger," he said.

That's why both of them are telling people not to burn their yards until late September.

But if you have a bunch of dead leaves around, that's also a fire hazard.

Here's some advice. You can compost, recycle, or stockpile it. But if you do that last option, make sure to keep it far away from your house.

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