In the wake of the wildfires spreading throughout the Southeast, the Catoosa County Commission voted unanimously Nov. 15 to enact a countywide burn ban that penalizes all those caught with open fires, including campfires and small bonfires.
This is in addition to the Georgia Forestry Commission's state ban on all fires for the purpose of debris clearing, which went into effect earlier this month.
Catoosa Fire Division Chief Steve Quinn said last week that while there have been several localized fires that put properties in Catoosa at risk already, those fires had been extinguished and no homes had been impacted by the blazes thus far.
The commissioners' decision to enact a burn ban came after they declared a state of emergency during the same meeting. The ban will stay in effect, Quinn said, until "there is significant rain or change in weather that we feel it is no longer a dangerous situation."
In the meantime, Catoosa residents should watch out for smoke and airborne particulates, said Quinn.
"If you are sensitive to the air, we recommend you stay inside," he said. "If you do have to go outside, wear a mask to protect your lungs."
While Catoosa hasn't had any large brush-fires yet, Quinn said the county is adequately prepared if a fire were to break out on the same scale as the one that consumed more than 1,000 acres atop Signal Mountain before being contained last week. Catoosa is a member of the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association, meaning local emergency personnel can pool resources from neighboring counties and states should the need arise. Quinn said Catoosa firefighters have already provided aid in dealing with a blaze on Signal Mountain.
In addition, Whitfield County is the home of the closest Georgia Forestry Commission office, which can provide bulldozers and additional equipment to fight wildfires.
"The forestry service doesn't extinguish, they contain," said Quinn. "If the need arises, we can use [bull]dozers to cut breaks into fires and let the fuels burn out. Obviously, our main goal is to protect all the structures in the county."
In Quinn's 17 years as a firefighter in Catoosa, he said he's never seen conditions as bad as this.
"We're accustomed to fires like this happening out West, but as far as here, it's the first time I've seen something like this," he said. "Hopefully this won't become the new norm."
The expenses related to the Southeastern wildfires have been minimal for the county, since little overtime has been needed and no structures have been damaged. However, that could change if a larger fire were to break out, said Quinn.