published Monday, February 20th, 2012

Forestry officials warn of wildfire risk in Georgia

Kevin Spurling of Jared Henry Contractors sharpens his chain saw before removing downed trees along a creek in the 2500 block of Cherokee Valley Road in Catoosa County.
Kevin Spurling of Jared Henry Contractors sharpens his chain saw before removing downed trees along a creek in the 2500 block of Cherokee Valley Road in Catoosa County.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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A multi-agency wildfire team will hold a public meeting about the steps homeowners can take to reduce the risk of wildfire at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Catoosa County Commission meeting room at 800 LaFayette St., Ringgold, Ga.

When tornadoes ripped through Georgia last year, the storms toppled trees on 161,208 acres in 34 counties, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Foresters say those thousands and thousands of storm-felled trees pose a serious wildfire risk.

"We're concerned about it," Georgia forestry spokeswoman Wendy Burnette said.

That's why a public meeting is being held Thursday in Ringgold, Ga., at which officials from the state, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service will tell residents how best to protect their homes in case of wildfire.

It's the first in what the wildfire team hopes will be a series of local meetings at which they'll spread the message of becoming a "firewise" community.

Suggestions for residents range from simple acts such as cleaning out overflowing gutters and raking pine needles from their yards to more involved projects such as creating "defensible space" around homes and landscaping with fire-resistant plants, such as the oak-leaf hydrangea.

"Really what this team is going to be focusing on is arming these communities with information ... to at least protect their homes," Burnette said. The theme is, "here's what you can do to try to protect yourself."

Community Wildfire Protection Specialist Eric Mosley said, "It's such a large amount of downed timber, there's just no practical way to get rid of it. The large trunks ... the only thing to [solve it] is decomposition."

It should take at least five years for the larger storm-felled trees to decompose, depending on the amount of rain, Mosley said.

"We're really urging home-owners to take some really simple steps to prevent the onslaught of wildfire," he said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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