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Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 12:17pm

Wildfires Contained in Northwest, Southeast Georgia

Firefighters have contained several large wildfires burning across the state, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that most of the fires currently burning are contained,” said Wendy Burnett, spokeswoman for the commission. “That doesn’t mean that they aren’t still burning, it just means that we have perimeters around them to keep them from spreading.”

The large blazes are in Dade and Lumpkin counties in north Georgia and in Brantley, Clinch and Lanier counties in the state’s southeast corner.

During the last seven days alone, fire crews have battled 627 separate wildfires covering at least 5,300 acres in Georgia, Burnett said.

In the southeast, “we’re seeing a good many fires start in swampy areas, and our fire suppression equipment is simply too big and too heavy to get very far into these swamps,” said Frank Sorrells, the forestry commission’s Satilla District manager, in a news release. “As a result, our rangers are only able to plow fire breaks around areas larger than the fire itself, which leads to even larger fires.”

Burnett said rugged terrain in the north have similarly hampered fire fighting efforts. In some cases, crews are digging fire breaks by hand to contain the flames.

Some fires started as controlled burns that were whipped out of control but gusty winds and fueled by already dry forests. Investigators have determined at least one – the Dade County blaze – is the result of arson, Burnett said.

She said a dry weather pattern means this is just the beginning of an active season.

“We’re in a La Nina weather system, which means it’s very dry and it’s forecast to continue to be dry for the coming months,” Burnett said. “Add to that all of the fuel that’s on the forest floor right now as well as some gusty, windy days, and you’ve got the makings of a very busy wildfire season.”

The commission also stopped issuing burn permits in southeast Georgia because of the dry conditions and because so many workers are out fighting fires.

Burnett said anyone with information about who might have set the Dade County fire is asked to call the forestry commission at 1-800-GA-TREES (1-800-428-7337).