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Plan aims to reduce wildfire risk

Representatives from the Georgia Forestry Commission presented Decatur County Commissioners with a study that could help safeguard against dangerous wildfires.

Chief Ranger Ronnie Martin of the Forestry Commission’s Decatur County unit introduced Will Fell, the GFC’s community wildfire protection coordinator from Statesboro, Ga.

Fell said that through the cooperation of the Georgia Forestry Commission and local government officials, Decatur County is the first county in South Georgia to develop a community wildfire protection plan. Fell said the plan is designed to lessen the threat of wildfires to populated areas while also working to conserve natural resources.

The plan identifies areas of Decatur County where there is a Wildland-Urban interface, which is defined as “an area where structures and other human development meet or intermingles with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels.” When certain natural and manmade conditions exist together in the Wildland-Urban interface, they make some communities more vulnerable to wildfire damage than others, according to the plan.

In addition to helping firefighters to better understand how to protect houses and other structures when wildfires break out, the plan may also help Decatur County become more likely to receive federal grant money for wildfire mitigation, that is, things that can be done to reduce the risk of them starting or spreading across large areas, Fell said. In fact, Fell said he had just told Decatur County Fire Chief Charlie McCann, who coordinated closely with local forestry rangers on the plan, about a grant the county could now be eligible for.

Where fires occur

The plan assesses 24 different areas spread cross 12 different fire districts covered by Bainbridge Public Safety, and both paid and volunteer county firefighters.

According to maps included in the plan, the area around Bainbridge and southern Decatur County, particularly Attapulgus, would stand to lose the most property value from wildfires. However, in the past, wildfires have occurred all over Decatur County, mostly due to debris burning.

While a summary of wildfire hazard ratings classified Bainbridge as having “low risk,” six small communities are classified as having “extreme risk”: Eldorendo and Pinehill in northern Decatur County, Jinks Crossing near Recovery in southwestern Decatur County, Dollar Subdivision off Georgia 97 South, Smith Landing near the Spring Creek and the Fowlstown community in southern Decatur County.

Copies of the wildfire protection plan will be made available to the public as soon as possible, Martin said.

Commissioners pass budget

At a special called hearing on Thursday morning commissioners approved the county government’s budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which began July 1.

They were to have approved keeping the county government’s millage rate at 8.56; however, due to the Board of Education expressing intent to raise its millage rate, commissioners will have to officially set both rates at a later date.

Then, County Tax Commissioner Don Belcher will take the county’s tax digest to Atlanta, Ga., to be approved by the Georgia Department of Revenue.

The budget passed by county commissioners totals $32,413,250.