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Crews containing brush fire
But situation still remains critical
06.12 brush fire 2
Smoke billows from a brush fire off Midland Road on Tuesday afternoon. Firefighters from several departments are standing guard at houses near the blaze as Georgia Forestry crews try to surround the fire with fire breaks. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

A brush fire in the middle of a swampy area in southern central Effingham County has burned more than 300 acres, and crews have been continuing to try to contain it.

Georgia Forestry Commission firefighting crews, along with several area fire departments, have been trying to contain the blaze between Midland Road and an area bordered by Zipperer and Herbert Kessler roads.

“We’ve got breaks around it,” said Vernon Owens, the district forest ranger. “We’re waiting until the fire gets to them and we’ll see if they hold.”

“We’ve got lines around it,” said Ty Hayman of the Georgia Forestry Commission late Wednesday afternoon. “We’re calling it contained, but it’s really hairy. It’s hard to hold it, and keep it in there. It’s still critical right now.”

There is unburned vegetation between the fire and the lines forestry crews have cut. They have started backfires to burn off some of that vegetation in order to cut off fuel for the blaze.

“When we’re doing the burnout, we have to be real cautious and we’re doing it in small sections,” Hayman said. “We’re going to let it burn out and patrol the lines and keep it in there.”

The fire became more active around 1:30 and 2 in the afternoon, Hayman said, as the wind picked up. Fire crews have to watch for breezes coming from different directions because of Effingham’s proximity to the coast.

Cutting fire breaks hasn’t been easy in some spots around the fire. It’s in the middle of a
swampy area, making it difficult for the forestry commission’s tractors to get through. But the vegetation that fuels the fire is dry.

“We’ve got a couple of areas we can’t get the tractors through because it’s so wet,” Owens said.

The GFC has seven tractor plow units working to establish fire breaks, and a spotter plane has been circling overhead constantly. It was a forestry plane that spotted the fire in the first place Monday.

Effingham County fire units have been working the fire for a week and a half, county fire chief Val Ashcraft said.

“It’s difficult to get around because it’s in a swamp,” he said.

Forestry tractors have gotten stuck and have had to be pulled out nearly a half dozen times.

An Effingham County Fire Department engine and a Port Wentworth fire truck sat ready in Bobby Bowers’ yard as a column of smoke towered over his house on Zipperer Road.

Bowers was at work Tuesday morning at Arizona Chemical in Savannah when his son called.

“He said, ‘Daddy, we’ve got fire trucks in our yard,’” Bowers said.

Bowers and his family have lived there for six years and have about six acres. He said the wind changed and that shift caused the fire to retreat from Herbert Kessler Road and toward Zipperer Road.

“I didn’t even know there was a fire until (Monday),” he said. “They said it started with that real bad lightning strike last week. But I didn’t know about it.”

Bowers also was once a firefighter, and his wife is a nurse at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.

“Things like this don’t panic us,” he said of the fire trucks in his yard.

But if the authorities told him it was time to leave because of the fire, “I’m gone,” he said.

“There’s nothing here we can’t replace.”

His son-in-law’s parents moved next door recently, but they are at Clarks Hill Reservoir outside of Augusta. Much of their stuff, including a boat, was moved across the street to the safety of a neighbor’s house.

Owens said trucks from various departments are stationed at houses nearest the fire just in case.

“We pretty much have got it covered,” Ashcraft said. “We have enough equipment to protect all the households.”

But it also may reignite in the future. The fire, even after it dies down, could smoke and smolder for weeks, Owens said, until enough rain falls to put it out completely.

“Two months down the road, it could re-ignite,” he said. “Until we get some rain, we’ll be monitoring this thing.”