Officials urge caution in outdoor burning; Dalton, Murray County remain under burn bans

Fire burns the side of Rocky Face Ridge in 2016 in this file photo. Experts from the Georgia Forestry Commission say north Georgia is drier now than in 2016, when wildfires broke out across the area.

With temperatures starting to cool and leaves beginning to change colors, many north Georgia residents will be tempted to get outdoors. Maybe they'll be camping out and starting a campfire. Maybe they'll be raking leaves and burning them. Maybe they'll have a bonfire and invite friends over.

But Mark Wiles, a wildfire prevention educator with the Georgia Forestry Commission, says you should think twice before starting that fire.

"In all of north Georgia, we are in an extreme drought," he said. "In fact, we are drier than we were in 2016 at this time."

October and November 2016 witnessed several wildfires across north Georgia, including Rocky Face Ridge. The largest of those fires, the Rough Ridge fire, burned about 28,000 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness before firefighters got it under control.

"We have had a number of wildfires this year. They've been suppressed and haven't spread to a lot of acres, but that could change," Wiles said. "The potential to have a large wildfire like we did in 2016 is there."

Wiles said that if you are making a campfire, make sure that the area around it is clear from vegetation and debris and that the fire is contained in a rock circle. When you finish, he said, use plenty of water to put it out.

Wiles said his best advice is that if you can, you should wait until the area gets more rainfall and isn't as dry before doing any outdoor burning.

Murray County is under a burn ban, and Fire Chief Dewayne Bain said recent rains haven't reduced the danger of wildfires.

"We are so dry. It's going to take a lot more rain than that to really make a difference," he said.

Whitfield County isn't under a burn ban, but the city of Dalton is.

"A lot of houses here are so close together that if a fire gets out of control, it can burn down not only the house where it started but neighboring houses," said Dalton Fire Chief Todd Pangle.

Pangle emphasizes that the burn ban doesn't apply to grilling.

Wiles notes that even in places that aren't under a burn ban you have to have a permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission before burning outdoors. You can apply for a burn permit and read more about safe outdoor burning practices at this website: www.gfc.state.ga.us/online-permits/index.cfm.

"If you don't have a permit and you are burning outdoors and your fire gets out of control, you are responsible for having that fire suppressed, paying for it. That can be very expensive," Wiles said.

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