Page 26 - Georgia Forestry - Issue 4 - Fall 2019
P. 26

   Sk y-High
By Stasia Kelly | Photography courtesy of GFC
GFC’s Air Operations
team is gearing up for wildfire season
  Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) representatives are recognized across the state by the emblem on their uniforms, signs and trucks. Trees. Air.
Water. Fire. Well-managed forests have an impact on each of those entities and the GFC provides services that support them all — from wildfire protection and prevention to landowner assistance, seedling supplies and support for timber products and markets worldwide. And while we may be more accustomed to witnessing the agency’s work at ground level, GFC operations are routinely servicing our state from the skies above, as well.
The GFC’s Air Operations is a 35-person team (11 full-time, 24 part-time) made up of commercially licensed, instrument-rated pilots positioned across the state. Twenty aircraft stationed at seven hangar locations are at pilots’ service as they patrol and protect Georgia’s forest resources and stand ready to serve other state agencies. Aircraft can fly up to 160 mph and are positioned so that any location in Georgia can be reached within one hour.
Georgia’s traditional wildfire season begins
in late November and runs into spring. About 3,500 wildfires occur annually in Georgia, with weather playing a major role. The drought index and rainfall amounts impact wildfire suscepti- bility, and GFC Protection Chief Frank Sorrells said, “This upcoming fall fire season has gotten our attention. We’re watching closely due to current drought indices and reduced rainfall amounts, especially in the northern half of the state.”
Georgia experienced catastrophic wildfires in 2007, when $65 million in timber was lost along the Georgia-Florida border. In 2016, fire ravaged north Georgia and five adjoin- ing states, and 2017’s West Mims fire in south Georgia claimed 152,000 forested acres.
“Most fires are human-caused,” said Sorrells, which is why the GFC places great emphasis on fire prevention through education. Early detec- tion can make the difference between dealing with a small backyard fire started by escaped burning debris, or a fast-spreading fire capable of mass destruction.
To stay ahead of fire activity, much of GFC Air Ops’ mission is centered on daily wild- fire patrol. According to GFC Air Operations

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