With the months-long onslaught of structure, brush and wild fires in Southeast Georgia, there’s no better time to brush up on fire prevention and safety guidelines.
Summer typically is a time of starting anew after winter, cleaning up and enjoying plenty of outdoor gatherings. Bonfires and campfires are common as the days turn warm but chilly, late-spring nights linger. Many residents also collect and burn garbage, yard waste and brush.
Unfortunately, residential burn piles are a leading cause of wildfires. The Georgia Forestry Commission requires a permit for burning all natural vegetation that is hand-piled, including leaf piles, vegetative debris and refuse from storm damage. Permits may be obtained by calling 1-877-OK2-BURN.
Residents who want to burn machine-piled natural vegetation or conduct area burns must call the forestry commission. Burn permits are subject to weather and burning ban restrictions as determined by the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Before lighting a brush pile, familiarize yourself with the weather conditions that contribute to wildfires, prepare the site correctly by surrounding it with gravel or dirt for at least 10 feet in all directions and if you’re using a burn barrel, make sure it’s equipped with the proper features. Mostly importantly, never leave a burn unattended.
Campfires are another type of controlled fire that quickly can grow out of control. Like a residential burn pile, a campfire must be started in a designated, safe area, and they must never be left alone. Campfires should be limited to fire rings or pits, away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves. Campers need to completely extinguish the fire before leaving the campsite by saturating the embers with water and stirring them until they’re cold.
If you build a fire, it is your responsibility to know how to build, maintain and extinguish it while minimizing any impact it creates. Don’t ruin an experience in the great outdoors by starting a wildfire.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking only outdoor fires pose hazards. Structures fires also can evolve into wildfires. Protect your home and those around it by maintaining the area, keeping the roof and gutters clear of leaves and debris, pruning and thinning trees and shrubs, removing branches hanging over the roof and making sure chimney screens are in place and in good condition.
Inside the home, test your smoke detectors regularly. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, smoke alarms cut in half the risk of dying in a fire, and from 2003-06, about two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke
Families also must prepare for emergencies. Mapping out routes to escape your home in case of fire and designating a meeting place would be beneficial. Practice family fire drills and your evacuation plan, and make sure the escape routes, meeting points and other details are known and understood by all family members.
For information about how you can prevent wildfires, go to www.smokeybear.com/wildfires. For information about reducing the risk of a residential fire, go to www.nfpa.org. Enjoy your summer and remember, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”