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County’s forestry rangers have big job

Forestry Commission’s Decatur County unit is particularly important in the rural, heavily wooded land that is Decatur County, Ranger Van Smith explained to county commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting.

Decatur County forestry rangers and their support staff are responsible for 255,200 acres of forest land, which comprises 64 percent of the county’s total 399,040 acres, said Smith, who was before commissioners to present the local forestry unit’s annual report.

During the past year, the Decatur County Forestry Unit responded to 43 wildfires, with an average fire size of 11.75 acres.

Under the supervision of Chief Ranger Rodney Heard, the local unit has four full-time employees and a part-time mitigation specialist. The unit maintains and operates three tractor plows, an all-wheel drive pickup truck, a brush truck and a forklift. As fire weather dictates, forestry rangers patrol Decatur County twice each day in search of wildfires.

Georgia’s current dry weather pattern and incoming La Niña conditions have the Georgia Forestry Commission preparing for a potentially severe wildfire season, according to a news release.

Local forestry rangers are always willing to travel to help with large wildfires in other areas. Decatur County Ranger Johnny Barwick has been in southeast Georgia’s Clinch County for the past 10 days  assisting with a very large swamp fire known as the Arabia Bay fire. Residents of south Georgia and north Florida may have noticed the heavy smoke drifting from the fire.

Forestry rangers continue to stay busy at home. Last year, the local forestry unit plowed 1,078 miles of pre-suppression fire breaks, servicing 171 landowners.

The Georgia Forestry Commission recently unveiled its faster, easier burn permitting system that automatically ensures safe weather conditions for outdoor burning. To use it, visit GaTrees.org on the Web, 24 hours a day.

Residents who prefer to phone in their requests may still utilize 1-877-OK2-BURN (1-877-652-2876).