Southern wildfires have threatened communities on edge
Thick smoke has settled over a wide area of the southern Appalachians, where dozens of uncontrolled wildfires are burning through decades of leaf litter and people breathe in tiny bits of the forest with every gulp of air.
It’s a constant reminder of the threat to many small mountain communities, where relentless drought and now persistent fires and smoke have people under duress.
“A lot of the ladies just went to tears and said this happens in other places, it doesn’t happen here,” pastor Scott Cates said as townspeople donated water, cough drops and other supplies for the firefighters at the Liberty Baptist Church in Tiger, Georgia.
Here, these fires don’t sleep. They burn through the night, through the now-desiccated tinder of deciduous forests accustomed to wet, humid summers and autumns.
“It doesn’t die down after dark,” said fire Capt. Ron Thalacker, who came from Carlsbad, New Mexico, with a fire engine that now draws water from streams and ponds to spray on hotspots in Georgia’s Rabun County, near the epicenter of the southern fires.
Large, wind-driven fires that scorch pine forests in the West often burn in the tree tops and mellow out at night, but these fires are clinging to the ground and actively burning 24 hours a day, said firefighter Chad Cullum of Billings, Montana.
Cullum spoke briefly, as flames rolled down a mountainside behind him. Then he ordered everyone to get out. “We need to leave,” he said sternly, ushering people to move down a rocky dirt road.
More than 5,000 firefighters and support personnel, including many veterans of wildfires in the arid West, and 24 helicopters are battling blazes in the fire zone, which has spread from northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee into eastern Kentucky, the western Carolinas and parts of surrounding states.