A Fateful Bolt of Lightning Brings Devastating Flames to Southeastern United States
Mandatory Evacuation. A term meaning that it’s time to leave with no promise of returning to what you know and love. That’s what the Southeast is currently experiencing with the West Mims Fire which is spreading out of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Many have had to leave their homes as the fire continues to spread and has ravaged more than 140,000 acres since lightning struck on April 6, 2017. The “fire triangle” was present that fateful day when mother nature gave us a thunderstorm. The dry elements, oxygen, and lightning (the heat source in this case) were prime conditions for a fire. Local and visiting fire fighters have worked long hard hours to contain and abolish the fire and protect the forests and lands that it seems intent on demolishing. Nothing in its path is safe.
The National Geographic tells us in an article titled Wildfires, that there are more than 100,000 wildfires every year! This affects 4-5 million acres of land in the US. Sadly, four out of every five wildfires are made by people in acts of carelessness or intentional arson. With that many man-made forest fires we may seriously need Smokey the Bear to come back and remind us how to take care of our lands and our forests. But there is that one out of five that is brought to us by none other than Mother Nature. And that is the case with this West Mims fire. It was nothing more than having the right conditions present at the right time. Alarmingly, with the right wind conditions this fire can travel up to 14 miles per hour.
Jacksonville News did an article reviewing the fire and what was being done to contain it. These firefighters, who are putting their life on the line daily to contain these fires, are using multiple strategic attacks to containing the breakouts, including tractor plows, wild land fire engines, helicopters, and jet tankers. I struggle to even imagine these men on the front lines of this fire digging fire breaks and cutting the brush that would act as fuel to the fire. A few days ago we learned about the fire overtaking a firefighting tractor plow. The driver was unharmed, however, it’s only an example of the danger these men and women face in fighting these fires. Every effort is given to protecting these forests, the timber, the surrounding homes, and the historical sites that are being threatened. (Jacksonville News)
According to NASA.gov the fire is currently 12% contained and they project a full containment date to be November 1, 2017. That’s the better part of a full year these heroes, currently at 711 personnel, will be fighting this fire.
As a land owner these can be long, harrowing days, not knowing how badly the land is burned. If it occurred at a lower intensity it’s possible the burn may be beneficial to the ecosystem and provide nutrients to the soil. But those places that burn at higher intensity will need years to recover. Landowners and government agencies will need to assess damages and see what restoration strategies need to take place. The Georgia Forestry Commission gives insight to what has happened in the past to help landowners recover from the devastating flames of forest fire. You can see their article here. It covers how the fires impact people and communities, and of course, timberland owners. While it is a devastating thought we must look to the future and what we can do to help the restoration process. “The destruction caused by these historic wild land fires is only part of the story. Nature will eventually restore the burned area, but when communities and local, state and federal agencies team up, it virtually assures the legacy of the land will continue.”
With this in mind landowners should contact their local agencies to see what relief effort is being offered and to get help in assessing damages. It may be a long process to recovery, but recovery is possible. You may find it beneficial to contact your local Georgia Forestry Commission and see if they are holding support meetings for those affected by the fires. They will have good information, as well, about how to prepare your land and forests and even your homes to harbor less fuel for the fires and how best to protect the land that you love. While we all know it's devastating and costly, your timber and your land can be restored. There is hope for these forests. Our prayers are with them all as they fight the fires and embark on the journey of restoration.
Photo credit: West Mims Fire Incident Team