Cypress Lake fire
A lake fire threatened homes and consumed about 100 acres of 700-acre Cypress Lake Tuesday, but forestry officials and firefighters stood by to protect the structures and battled the blaze as a thick blanket of smoke covered much of the Statesboro area.
The smoke layer will likely remain today as firefighters continue efforts to control the fire.
Forestry officials are investigating the fire at Cypress Lake Road that began Sunday, possibly igniting from a spark from a chain saw, said Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Byron Haire.
Forestry officials brought in a helicopter to dip water from nearby sources to dump on the flames, he said. The actual lake bed is on fire, with flames fueled by dried grasses and peat moss. The lake was drained for repairs, and drought conditions rapidly dried the layers of leaves, moss and other debris that had been underwater, he said.
If firefighters can't get to the flames, and it doesn't rain, the fire could smolder for weeks, said Statesboro Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield.
A couple years ago Kennedy Pond, also known as Lake Deborah, caught fire and burned for days. The area around the lake on Ga. 46 was covered with a thick layer of smoke as the peat moss burned underground.
Fire breaks were cut around the edges of the lake, and fire trucks from both area fire departments and the Georgia Forestry Commission were stationed near the homes that were threatened to make sure they were kept safe, Haire said.
Bucky Wagner, CEO of Cypress Lake, Inc., an association of people owning homes in the Cypress Lake area, was in the Atlanta area Tuesday but said he was aware of the fire.
Wagner expressed concern about the flames spreading to a dry, grassy field near a couple homes and said he was glad firefighters were on standby.
Firefighters and forestry officials could not reach the area of fire by tractor or ground crews, Haire said, thus requiring the helicopter for dropping water on the site.
Severe drought conditions and low humidity exacerbated the problem, Haire said. People had been using chain saws in the area, and with the extremely arid conditions, a spark could have started the blaze. However, the cause of the fire " is still under investigation," he said.
Merrifield said he calls such fires "muck fires," and said the flames could smolder for weeks if rains don't come or forestry officials can't douse them.
In the meantime, however, the real concern is smoke, Haire said.
In addition to traffic dangers, the smoke could cause problems with people who have breathing issues, he said.
"People with chronic breathing problems should stay inside, run their air conditioners and keep doors and windows closed," he said.
"I don't advise being out in this stuff," Merrifield said. "It will be worse in the morning, with a potential for traffic hazards."
Georgia State Patrol Post 45 Commander Sgt. Chris Wright said additional patrols will be posted in the areas affected by smoke, and warned drivers to "leave early, drive slowly and use headlights." Visibility is limited, and if fog rolls in Wednesday morning, conditions could be even more dangerous, he said.
Come back to statesboroherald.com as details develop.