David and Nancy Dolph’s home sits high atop a hill overlooking the Chattahoochee National Forest north of Clarkesville. For 19 years they’ve enjoyed their view from Little Eagle Mountain Road, but on Sunday, life near the woods made them nervous.
A woods fire that officials say started on Forest Trail Road about a mile downhill from them, spread quickly uphill, threatening their home and their neighbors’.
“Well, it was kind of smoky down below our house, and I looked out the window, and there were flames just right across the street here a couple of feet high, and the fire was coming up the hill, and it really moved kind of fast,” Dolph said.
Andrew Tatum and his wife were doing yard work when they saw the first signs of trouble.
“My wife was in the front yard and she came back to the back and said, ‘I think we’ve got a fire going on,’ and I just brushed it off. I said, ‘Well, it’s down the hill.’ She went back to the front and came back about five minutes later and she said ‘I’m calling ’em’ [firefighters]. I can see it.’”
It was at that point that Andrew Tatum says he, too, saw the flames.
“It just obviously originated way down the hill and the wind and everything, with the leaves and the trees, just brought it up the hill.”
Sounding the alarm
Multiple 911 callers sounded the alarm and around 12:45 p.m. Habersham County Dispatch sent crews to the scene. Units were dispatched to Forest Trail and Little Eagle Mountain Road – both heavily wooded, populated areas.
With the woods burning mere feet from his home, Tatum grabbed a garden hose. So did Dolph.
“I got all the hose I had, 250 feet, and a little ember came over, and I had to knock down a little small section, but that was it. Otherwise, it didn’t come across the road, so very grateful for that,” Dolph told Now Habersham.
Georgia Forestry crews bulldozed a fire break around the burning woods and firefighters used a pumper truck and hoses to wet down vegetation. After three hours spent battling the blaze in steady, gusty winds, they determined the fire that burned 4.7 acres was contained and crews started clearing the scene. As they did, residents from Little Eagle Mountain Road and nearby neighborhoods thanked them for protecting their homes.
There would be more protecting to do, though.
With the mutual aid units gone, about a half dozen firefighters still on the scene quickly flew into action when the Tatums noticed a flare-up in the woods next to their home.
Georgia Forestry personnel bulldozed another fire break, explaining that once vegetation is charred, embers can easily reignite. A forestry official said the woods will continue to smolder, and smoke will be visible for several days. He urged homeowners to keep an eye out. Habersham County firefighters will also be monitoring the area.
“We’re going to remain out here and make sure that we’ve got all the hotspots knocked down and make sure everything’s good and wet and we’ll probably be checking in on it throughout the evening,” Capt. Strickland said. “The main thing is there was no loss of life and nobody lost any property.”
High fire danger conditions persist
Sunday was the second day of challenging, yet successful firefighting Habersham County and Georgia Forestry crews have had to endure. On Saturday the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office says someone burning leaves ignited a fire that spread to the woods off Talmadge Drive. That fire shut down the roadway for several hours as crews worked to keep the flames from spreading.
The Georgia Forestry Commission is still looking into the cause of Sunday’s fire.
The National Weather Service is again warning of increased fire danger on Monday as dry, windy weather continues.
The forecast calls for rain Wednesday, but until these high fire danger conditions improve, burn permits will not be issued. Anyone conducting illegal outdoor burns may be held liable for any damages that occur.
“You just have to be extremely careful. There’s a reason we’re not issuing burn permits because this right here can happen very quickly,” Stickland said, referencing Sunday’s woods fire. “It causes the potential for loss of life and property and nobody wants that.”