Georgia wildfires burn thousands of acres of land

ATLANTA — A month without rain and bone dry conditions have fire crews throughout north Georgia racing to stay ahead of serious wildfires.

Gov. Nathan Deal spoke only to Channel 2 Action News Tuesday about the state's wildfire response.

Deal signed an executive order Monday banning fireworks statewide.

Firefighters walk down a dirt road a wildfire burns a hillside Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

"As we know the use of fireworks sometimes has the unintended consequences of setting off fires and we don't need any more," Deal told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant.

In an exclusive interview, the governor didn't rule out further action this week should things get worse.

"We're fortunate that we have not seen any greater loss of property, or certainly not the loss of life, and we hope that it will continue that way," Deal said.

"Just the sheer number of fires that we're seeing has been a challenge," Georgia Forestry Commission's Wendy Bennett said


Bennett told Diamant there are growing concerns that the exceptional drought conditions could soon cause hundreds of state, federal and local firefighters working in north Georgia to lose the upper hand on raging wild fires with more than 27,000 acres burned so far.

The GFC reports there are currently 10 "significant" fires across six north Georgia counties.

"It is very dangerous work. They threaten their lives every day and fight these wildfires," Bennett said.

One of those fires came very close to Flora Odom’s Bartow County home. She credits her dog Bella with alerting her to the fire.

"Then I was scared, and I hardly didn't get any sleep last night," Odom told Diamant.

Local fire crews quickly contained the fire that scorched about 20 acres but farther north crews found a totally different ball game.

The forestry commission said it has already shifted fire crews from around the state to north Georgia and can call in reinforcements from other states quickly if necessary.

The forestry commission and the governor both agree that rain at this point would help more than anything.

U.S. Forest Service to meet with residents

The United States Forest Service will meet with residents Tuesday evening who live in the shadow of the massive Rough Ridge wildfire in Fannin County.

Forest service crews have been fighting the wildfires in the Cohutta Wilderness area and have been forced to hike for miles just to get to it.

"Usually when we have a fire come through here, the crews come through with leaf blowers, and pretty much blow off the line," Thomas Liogys with the U.S. Forest Service told Channel 2’s Berndt Petersen.

But that didn’t work this time. Liogys said conditions are so dry that areas that have already burned have burned again as more leaves fell.

The fire has now scorched nearly 24,000 acres near the Cohutta Wilderness area and threatened many homes, so the forest service is holding a community meeting so locals can voice their concerns.

"We want to let them know what's going on with the fire.  Give them a status update," said Susan Blake with the U.S. Forest Service.

So far, firefighters have succeeded in stopping the fire from jumping the border of the wilderness area.  But they had to do it without conventional fire trucks. There are no roads for to drive them over.

"But when you get this far off the line, you don't have the capability to push water this far uphill that far from those trucks. So it comes down to physical manpower. Coming up here on top of the hill--hour after hour, day after day. Digging a line,” Liogys told Petersen.