With the drought index at critical levels and the treat of fire of the rise, Georgia’s Forestry Commission and the U.S. Forest Service have put together a team of six wildfire safety experts to educate the public about fire prevention and safety.

On Thursday, that team of experts, joined by Smokey the Bear, visited the Calhoun-Gordon County Library to talk to local kids about ways they can help prevent wildfires. Afterward, the children pretended to be veterinarians as they tended to Carl the therapy dog who pretended to be a victim of a fire.

Mark Wiles, a wildfire prevention specialist and team member for the Forestry Commission, said the point of education sessions like the one held Thursday is to teach people to be vigilant about preventing fires before they start and to instruct them on little things they can do to make it harder for fires to begin here in Gordon County.

“There is a burn ban in effect here in Gordon County, so there shouldn’t be any fires being started to begin with, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Wiles said. “We want people to know to clean out their gutters so that if a spark hits them, they don’t go up in flames. We want people to know that cigarettes need to be completely put out and that pulling off to the side of the road where it’s really dry can cause a fire if you have anything dragging that gets really hot.”

Keeping these things in mind right now is especially important, Wiles said, because conditions are very similar to those North Georgia experienced in the fall of 2016 when tens of thousands of acres burned and Gatlinburg lost approximately 2,000 structures to fire.

“In September, wildfires across Georgia were triple in number compared to our five year average for the month,” Wiles said. “We’re actually drier now than in 2016, so we are set up for it to be bad if we aren’t careful.”

The county’s burn ban prohibits all types of outdoor fires and the lighting of any fireworks in all unincorporated areas of the county, with the exception of a small cooking fire that is carefully contained within an outdoor grill. Wiles said that those who choose to use a small cooking fire should remember to be careful with how they dispose of any coals or embers. They must be doused in water, stirred, and doused again. If they are too hot to touch with bare hands, they should be doused another time.

Violation of the ban could result in a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. In addition, violators could be held responsible for any damages resulting from an out of control fire. It is always illegal to burn household trash, furniture, cardboard, rubber, carpet, pallets, and other similar materials in Gordon County.

For more information about wildfire in Georgia, fire safety tips, and to learn more about the services of the Georgia Forestry Commission, visit GaTrees.org.

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