Tropical storm system Barry brought Columbia County what it needed most last weekend - lots of rain.
The storm dropped 3.63 inches of rain on the Augusta area on Saturday and Sunday, said David Schetrum, a technician with the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C.
"It is going to give us a reprieve, and it is nice to get the rain. But we are not out of the woods yet," said Chief Ranger Senior Steve Abbott, of the Columbia and Richmond County Georgia Forestry Commission units. "It helped out a lot, but it is nowhere near enough."
Including Barry's precipitation, the Augusta area has gotten 15.8 inches of rain so far this year - still 4.56 inches below the average of 19.74 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Schetrum said the drought conditions are expected to continue, with a dry pattern likely setting back in this week.
Abbott said he expects the effects of Barry's rains to be gone within the next week, returning Columbia County to a high fire risk.
The Georgia Forestry Commission and Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue fought the effects of the ongoing drought May 29 in the form of two brush fires in rural parts of the county.
An eight- to 10-acre fire broke out on Harlem-Grovetown Road at Old Union Road about the same time as a five- to six-acre brush fire was reported on Ridge Road in Appling, stretching county resources thin.
"Those could have gotten ugly," said Capt. David Dickenson, a Martinez-Columbia training officer. "Something small that you can't get to right away, it really can be more than you can handle."
Dickenson said that during years with a normal amount of precipitation, wildfires still break out, but firefighters are usually battling knee-high flames at a fire that doesn't spread quickly in high humidity or through moist brush. Dry conditions, however, low humidity and high winds can quickly turn a 10-acre fire into 20 burning acres.
"Very seldom do we face 20-foot flames like we were facing the other day," Dickenson said, adding that the fire department has responded to a slightly higher of wildfires so far this summer. "When you are in a woods fire and you are facing flames as tall as a building, you know conditions are dry ... It is a different ball game right now."
Abbott said his office normally responds to between 40 and 60 wildfires a year. He said the number of fires isn't rising much, but "they are more intense now because of the drought."
Natural causes of fire including lighting strikes and solar combustion occur, but are rare, Abbott said.
"Our biggest problem in this area are people. People cause fires," he said.
Abbott said residents need to be very careful during their outdoor activities to prevent sparking a wildfire. They need to be conscious of where they park, as hot cars can ignite tall grasses.
Embers from campfires and grills also are a concern, as are cigarettes.
Columbia County residents have been under a ban on outdoor burning since May 1. Officials said Monday that Martinez-Columbia has received 22 complaints about unauthorized residential burning since the ban went into effect.
Campfires for warmth or cooking and outdoor grilling are allowed, but Abbott suggested making the fires only as big as needed.
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