Fayetteville’s The Ridge Nature Preserve, which was officially opened on Aug. 13, has been closed until further notice due to the risk of wildfire brought on by the persistent drought in the area.
Southern Conservation Trust, which manages the 308-acre preserve, closed the entrance gates on Tuesday after city officials encouraged the move.
Fayetteville Fire Chief Alan Jones officially started the discussion a few days prior, and on Monday drafted a memo to City Manager Ray Gibson outlining the risks posed by having hikers, campers and other people carrying out recreational activities on the property, which is bordered by several neighborhoods containing thousands of homes.
“Any fire that might occur within The Ridge nature area presents some significant concerns,” Jones wrote in his memo.
The following were Jones’ outlined concerns:
• Low humidity conditions have continued to dry out the abundance of fall foliage
• There has been no previous maintenance in the area to reduce the buildup of hazardous ground fuels which have accumulated over decades
• Any fire which might occur in the Ridge can be expected to grow rapidly and could pose a very real threat to existing neighborhoods – flying brands will spark additional fires well beyond the original fire area
• Smoke conditions would impact areas miles beyond the fire area
•Our local fire resources would be taxed significantly for weeks
• If Georgia Forestry responds, the creation of fire breaks would significantly damage the area
• The Ridge could be closed for months in the aftermath.
“Since approximately 90 percent of all forest fires are caused by humans, limiting the traffic through this area will reduce the potential for a catastrophic event to occur,” Jones wrote. “I will continue to closely monitor conditions and provide updates so informed decisions can be made as we progress through this extreme weather situation.”
Fayette County’s three fire services have all urged the public not to set any outdoor fires until drought conditions are mitigated with a substantial amount of rain.
As of press time Friday, the National Weather Service based in Peachtree City, only two of the next 10 days present any chance at all of rain, those being Monday and next Saturday, but even those are only 10-percent chances.
The National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska on Thursday published its latest U.S. Drought Monitor chart, which depicts most of the northern part of Georgia as experiencing a mixture of D3 “Extreme Drought” and D4 “Exceptional Drought” conditions, with D4 being the greatest intensity in the range.
The last measured rain in Fayette County fell on Oct. 16. That reading was less than a tenth of an inch. Just over a tenth of an inch was recorded on Oct. 8, and before that just over an eighth of an inch fell on Sept. 28.
According to the National Weather Service, the Atlanta region in general averaged just over a seventh of an inch of rainfall in October of this year compared to averages of 2.5 to 3.5 inches over the previous few Octobers. No rain has yet been recorded in November.