Progress Slow in Battling Ware County Blaze - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/25/07

Progress Slow in Battling Ware County Blaze

Just when things looked to be getting better, a flare-up overnight has firefighters and volunteers redoubling their efforts in Ware County.

The dry conditions and winds have caused problems from the beginning, and now a change in wind direction is spreading the fire to different parts of a surrounding swamp area.

Firefighters from all over have come together to fight a fire which we learned from being on the scene can make you feel helpless.

Flames shooting up into the sky. Brush that was once living now nothing but charred ruins. That's what you see on some of the nearly 60,000 acres which have burned so far.

"They love their job and they enjoy it, but you know when you come out here and you beat around on a dozer in this rough terrain, in this brush and stuff, day in and day out for a while, it really makes it hard on you," said Byron Haire with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Every time it seems firefighters get a handle on one hot spot, something else appears. Yesterday, the blaze was 70 percent contained. That is, until night fell.

"It got into plenty of fuels for it to burn," said Haire. "What we would refer to as heavy loading, heavy fuel loading. And it got a little wind behind it. And it developed a plume that you could see a good long ways off."

Some of the smaller fires burning in Ware County have actually been set by firefighters. It's what they call back burning, designed to get rid of all the fuel so the larger fire can't spread.

The back burning, the digging of fire breaks, and the seemingly constant flyovers of Coast Guard planes dropping water are working, slowly. But the weather isn't helping the cause.

"What we refer to as our trigger points have dropped," said Haire. "Used to be you were worrying about 15-, 14-mile-an-hour winds. Now on an eight- to 12-mile-an-hour day, you have a lot of problems."

Georgia insurance commissioner John Oxendine got a firsthand look at the fire today. "I took a good look at the fire from the air, and it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," he told us. "But then when I saw all of the charred destruction, tears almost came to my eyes."

(In an interview earlier today, Oxendine explained how such damage can complicate insurance claims. See our earlier story, Ware County Wildfire Changes Direction; Battling Flames Difficult.)

In the woods, the battle rages on. And while fire officials are hopeful, they're not optimistic about the few days ahead. As Haire put it, "With the drought conditions, it's going to be tough."

As of about 6pm Wednesday, the fire was about 50 percent contained. Firefighters are concerned about keeping the fire from crossing US Highway 1, which could lead to evacuations of more populated areas and might even force firefighters to relocate their command center.

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

Powered by Frankly