Temporary burn ban to go into effect

COVINGTON - The Newton County Fire Department and the local Georgia Forestry Commission Unit are initiating a temporary outdoor burn ban in Newton County beginning Nov. 17.

The statewide burn ban was lifted Oct. 1, but due to concern that increasingly dry vegetation might result in more fires getting out of control, the decision was made to reinstate the ban, according to Terry Quigley, chief ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission's Newton-Rockdale-DeKalb Unit.

"Prior to last week, most of the available fuels were in a live state, meaning even though it has been very dry, these fuels still contained a lot of moisture, thus making it harder for the fire to spread rapidly," Quigley said. "Live fuels burn slower and release less energy, which in turn makes the fire spread a lot slower. This is why we have been allowing burning until now."

But now the live fuels are curing out, meaning they are changing and going dormant from recent freezes, Quigley said. So, when the fuels burn, the energy release is greater and the fire is increasingly harder to control and suppress, he said.

With the leaves falling, even more volatile fuels will be added to the mix, he said.

The ban covers all outdoor burning, including campfires, warming and cooking fires, Quigley said.

The only exceptions will be recognized forestry practices such as silvicultural (forest management) and agricultural burns, which are generally conducted by the Forestry Commission under controlled situations for the health and benefit of the forest and its inhabitants, Quigley said.

"We as an agency are always concerned with the protection of Newton County's citizens and the forest," Quigley said. "We feel this is a smart decision at this point based on our past experience, and we fully support the Newton County Fire Department. Also, a byproduct of this is the county will be saving water that is being used to extinguish these controlled and out-of-control fires."

The ban is under effect until further notice.

The weather and the county's fire danger rating will determine when the ban will be lifted, Quigley said.

Newton County is operating at the "very high" fire danger level of 4, or "extreme" level of 5, he said, and that's not likely to change so long as the drought persists.

Quigley said he expects a statewide burn ban could be announced soon.

For more information on fire danger ratings and weather, visit www.ga.trees.org.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.