Forestry rangers keep busy

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Georgia Forestry Commission rangers are working as hard as ever to control wilderness fires while also doing their part to help the state government weather its budget shortfall.

During a time when wildfires are making national news regularly, forestry rangers are also having to deal with the increased population density in Southwest Georgia, Ranger Van Smith told the Board of County Commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting.

In Decatur County, one of Georgia’s largest in terms of land area, GFC crews plowed more fire breaks than anywhere else, Smith said. In fact, of the county’s 399,040 acres of land, 255,200 acres—or about 64 percent—are considered forest land under the GFC’s protection. Although agriculture and silviculture—the care and cultivation of forests—still account for the largest-acreage controlled burns permitted locally, Georgia Forestry offices around the state have kept busy dealing with a significant increase in the number of burn permits requested by people burning yard debris.

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To help free up time for protecting and caring for forests, the GFC has set up a burn permit hotline, 877-OK2-BURN (652-2876). To help save the state money, GFC rangers remain parked at the office on Fridays unless a wildfire starts, Smith said. You can also get more information online at

During the past year, local rangers responded to 72 forest fires. Flames escaping prescribed burns were the largest single cause of forest fires, accounting for 22. After a rash of 34 residential fires in 2007, only eight were reported in 2008. Other types of fires which rangers saw a decrease in were arson, from 17 to eight, and machine use, from 14 to eight. Lightning accounted for nine fires in the last year, up from three in 2007.

Local forestry rangers have also helped out with large wildfires in Texas, North Carolina and Waycross, Ga., Smith said.