Originally created 03/09/06

Blaze breaks loose



An outdoor burn, one of several in the area in the past few days, kept firefighters busy Wednesday.

The Wednesday blaze, a field fire that at one point threatened two homes in northern Columbia County, resulted when a man who was burning grass lost control of the fire, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Gary Thigpen said. It melted some vinyl siding on a mobile home and damaged a car in the 7000 block of Moontown Road near Mistletoe State Park.

Battalion Chief Thigpen said the fire also spread to about 40 hay bales, which took several hours to extinguish. Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger Senior Steve Abbott, already in the area for a controlled burn, was able to cut a fire break for the Moontown Road fire, saving two homes from damage.

On Monday, a McDuffie County man was killed in a house fire on County Line Road. Authorities believe that fire might have been caused by leaf pile fires that spread.

On Wednesday, a brush fire on Jaime Drive in southern Columbia County also required firefighter assistance, as did one on Wheeler Road near Garden City Baptist Church.

The area's dry conditions are probably responsible for the frequency of fires, weather officials say.

Bruce Cherry, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in West Columbia, S.C., said the Augusta area has had below-normal rainfall so far this year and humidity levels have been low, in the 20 percent to 30 percent range and sometimes as low as the teens.

"That's probably the biggest thing,'' Mr. Cherry said.

As of Wednesday, the Augusta area had registered 6.36 inches of rain since Jan. 1, which is 3.3 inches below normal, said Dave Schuestrum, also a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Things are dryer, and then you get a little bit of wind and especially the lower humidities, and that helps (fires spread) a lot,'' Mr. Schuestrum said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Abbott said the man who was burning grass on Moontown Road had alerted Georgia Forestry of the agricultural burn before starting it and will not be cited.

Mr. Abbott said burning permits will not be issued today and possibly Friday because of weather forecasts that call for high winds, which he said were pivotal in helping spread Wednesday's fire.

Reach J. Scott Trubey or Preston Sparks at 868-1222 or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.

Permit Forecast



Georgia Forestry Commission officials say outdoor burning permits won't be issued for today and possibly Friday because of high wind forecasts. Beyond that, residents are asked to call (877) OK2BURN (652-2876) to obtain a permit.