Statesboro and Bulloch County firefighters headed to Clinch County Friday to help fight raging wildfires that consumed more than 4,000 acres as winds blew the flames out of control.
Georgia Emergency Management Agency's Gordon Lowe called Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn to request the aid, and Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner said Georgia Forestry Commission officials contacted him to ask for assistance.
The city and county fire departments are working together as part of the Georgia Mutual Aid Group, Turner said.
Fires blazed out of control in Long, Ware and Clinch counties, he said. Wynn said firefighters from Statesboro and Bulloch County were focused on the Clinch County inferno, which threatened structures and caused some evacuations, according to reports.
The fires began in Long County Thursday, when a controlled burn escaped confines near U.S. 84 and Elim Church Road, according to reports. Homes were threatened and people were evacuated to a school, and a nursing home population was taken to a church. Prisoners at Long State Prison were transported to Reidsville State Prison.
Wynn said local firefighters were sent to relieve Clinch County firefighters, who have been battling the blazes for hours. Turner said the Statesboro-Bulloch County Fire Café unit also responded to the area, to provide relief for firefighters and citizens who may need refreshment and a place to rest.
Wynn said the county fire department dispatched 20 firefighters and eight vehicles - five engines, two brush trucks and a service vehicle. The city sent a reserve engine two volunteers and three paid firefighters.
Both departments retained a sufficient staff to be able to respond to local fire emergencies, he said.
"It's pretty big, from what I understand," Turner said. "I hear they had to give up on some of the structures. The wind is picking up, too, and that spells disaster."
Wynn warned people to refrain from burning.
"I would urge citizens to not even burn yard trash," he said. "These breezes, low humidity, and as dry as the brush is, I urge folks not to burn at all."
Turner said the fires have threatened over 100 homes. He recalled fires in Waycross last year, which evoked similar responses in aid from other counties to help fight the wildfires.
GEMA officials were contacted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency late Friday, who offered federal assistance, Wynn said.
The Georgia Forestry Commission issued a statewide outdoor burning restriction Friday, said Alan Dozier, Chief of Protection for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
The restriction "due to dangerous fire conditions that require all available firefighting resources. Burn permits will not be issued until conditions improve," he said.
"We appreciate the patience of every Georgian as we work to contain these fires," he said. "While conditions for burning might be favorable in some areas, in many others they are not. With our rangers already fighting several fires in the southern part of the state, we just cannot risk additional outbreaks by granting burn permits in any location."
The burn restriction will be in place through Monday, March 28."The implications could be dire," emphasized Dozier, "and we simply must keep safety first."
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.