Photo by Heather Middleton
By Johnny Jackson
Henry County firefighters battled windy conditions to douse the tall flames, leaping from a grassy, vacant lot in west McDonough.
McDonough Fire Chief Steve Morgan said he heard the call over his radio and decided to provide some assistance on the single-alarm grass fire.
Morgan acknowledged that, as the weather gets warmer and drier, the possibility of dangerous outdoor fires increases. He pointed to the upcoming Open Burning Ban being instituted by the state's Environmental Protection Division, as a welcome mandate against summertime outdoor burning.
"The whole idea behind the burn ban, to start with, is clean air," said Morgan, noting the Open Burning Ban that begins Sunday in metro Atlanta.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division will prohibit burning in Clayton and Henry counties, as well as 52 other counties in the state through Sept. 30.
The summer-long ban is part of the EPD's plan to improve air quality during smog season. Citizens and businesses are discouraged from burning yard wastes and land-clearing debris, in addition to the year-round state ban on the burning of household garbage.
EPD officials said, during the summer months, the ozone in the air can reach unhealthy levels. The division has identified open burning as a significant contributor to the pollutants that form ozone.
Morgan said burning also poses dangers with accidental fires -- grass and brush fires, as well as fires around, and in, the home.
"When we are allowed to burn, we need to keep in mind the weather situation," he said. "There's a lot to consider before you go out and start burning."
The fire chief recalled a recent fire-related fatality, and said it should remind area residents to take fire safety seriously, whether in the home, or outside in the yard.
Six weeks ago, firefighters responded to a fatal duplex fire near downtown McDonough that claimed the life of an elderly man, he said. Morgan said the man was found unconscious in his home, and had suffered several burns.
The fatality was the first fire-related "death in McDonough in maybe 45 years," he said.
Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services serves a population of 275,772. The department employs 367, according to Clayton Fire Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke, who said the department responded to approximately 400 "outdoor, non-structural fires" in 2010 -- 200 of those were woods, grass and wild-land fires.
"Certainly, these fires occur more frequently during times of high winds and dry conditions," said Feilke. "Escaped debris ... [from outdoor] burning contributes to the majority of wildfires," she said. "Other possible sources of ignition, that are utilized in the dry summer months, are barbecue grills and lawnmowers."
Fire officials are asking area citizens to adhere to the statewide burn ban, beginning May 1. The ban is scheduled to be lifted Oct. 1, though the date is subject to change, based on weather conditions.
To learn more about the Open Burning Ban, contact the EPD District Office at (404) 362-2671, or visit the web site at www.gaepd.org/Documents/offices.html.