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Bulloch and Statesboro firefighters volunteer to help with the Waycross wildfire
Bulloch firefighter
Bulloch firefighter is shown while helping battle wildfire in south Georgia - photo by SPECIAL PHOTO
Bulloch County firefighters joined in the fight this week against the largest wildfire in Georgia history. Twenty Statesboro firefighters and 15 Bulloch County firefighters, plus others who volunteered on an unofficial basis, worked long hours to help battle the blaze.
    Some spent two days at the scene of the raging wildfire in Waycross, and returned home only to head back that way again the next day.
    Portal Fire Chief Christopher Ivey volunteered twice and may be heading back again if needed, he said.
    "I went Tuesday through Thursda (last week)y, and was back again Friday and Saturday night," he said.
    The experience was nothing like he has ever seen in fighting fires. "You might have a back yard fire, a half acre, and then to go there - it's like night and day," he said. "It was like something you'd see on TV ... in California."
    "It's nasty down there," said Nevils firefighter Billy Bonney. "I was down there for about five days, doing 12-16 hour rotations."
    He worked with Bryan County and Glennville firefighters, helping Waycross firefighters and volunteers from across the state trying to subdue the voracious fire.
    "I'd sleep five or six hours and go back out," he said. "It was hard to breathe, you couldn't see anything."
    The mission was to protect houses and other structures from burning, he said.
    Ivey said firefighters on the ground could not extinguish the fire, but firefighters were battling the blazes from the air and using forestry equipment to dig fire breaks. "We were guarding houses to the best of our ability."
    The tactics used were to allow yards to  burn, then extinguish the flames before the structures were damages. That way, if flames returned, there would be nothing to burn in the yard, which would protect the house.
    Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn also took a trip to Waycross, along with Bulloch County Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil, to survey the damage.
    While the wildfire is a terrible thing, the opportunity for local firefighters to experience a fire of such magnitude is beneficial, Wynn said.
    "To me, it's been a good thing," he said about the chance to volunteer to help with the volatile situation. "We're helping our neighbors while also preparing ourselves in the event it should happen in Bulloch County."
    Local firefighters have had the opportunity to use new equipment in shuttling water back and forth to other firefighters, he said.
    While the work is hard and exhausting, it is rewarding in knowing Bulloch firefighters are helping, and community support in Waycross for all the volunteers is amazing, Ivey said.
    "They even give you massages," he said. "Food, you name it, you got it."
    The hospitality shown to the volunteers is exceptional, he said. "They had sunglasses, sunscreen, anything you need."
    "Everything from socks to sunglasses, everything you needed," Wynn said. "I felt comfortable having our people there."
    "We had plenty to eat," Bonney said. "All you had to do was ask. To be honest, they had underwear if we needed it."
    Thursday afternoon, Bulloch Central 911 radioed a request for five more Bulloch County volunteers to head to Waycross to help.
    "We're continuing to fight a real monster," said Statesboro Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield. "It's rather a challenge there." Winds changing direction is a big problem in containing the massive fire.
    "We started out trying to get people to go for two days at a time," he said. "Then we changed to 24 hours at a time. We've had a lot of different people go down for that.
    Merrifield said he hesitated to call helping with the wildfire a training experience, but said "it is exposure to an event they (firefighters) probably will never get exposure to again."
    Statesboro firefighters who volunteered in Waycross include Merrifield and the following: Derrel Melton, Mike Smith, Larry Colbert, Ronnie Shaw, Chris Whitehead, Steve Green, Tim Grams, Weston Williams, and Tommy Perkins;
    Also, Jason Mongold, Nate Young, Bobby Duggar, Ricky Hutchinson, Fred Grabenstein, Chris Moore, Andrea Gamblin, Stephen Brown, Lee Nessmith and Jason Barrs.
    Bulloch County firefighters who volunteered time in helping fight the fire in Waycross included Ivey, Bonney, and the following: Dan Bonner, Timothy Murray, Tyler Thompson, Tracy NeSmith, Brandon Neal, and Doug Harrell:
    Also, Steven Redd, Walter Mikell, Matt Webb, David Pollett, David Burke, Allen Hood, Daniel Bacon and Kenny Davis.
    Merrifield said there were several other area firefighters who did not register but traveled to Waycross to help as well.
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