Update Wednesday, Nov. 9, the drought continues and fire crews are busy responding to calls from residents in the Worley Crossroads, Tatum Road and Salem Church areas who reported smoke. Crews says there is a good bit of smoke but are finding nothing burning. There is a clear smell of smoke in downtown Jasper as well. It is believed the smoke drifted from the Cohutta Wilderness area fire. The above map shows the Fire Danger Rating as of November 26.
A complete outdoor burning ban was announced Thursday to include all campfires and fireworks. It will remain in place until significant rains fall.
The announcement, made by Pickens Fire Marshal Curtis Clark during a commissioners' work session, stated that no one should burn any yard waste or any debris outside until we have had soaking rains. The City of Jasper indicated they will enforce the same ban.
“The drought we have is ongoing and such a severe level, any little spark could lead to a big fire,” Clark said.
Thus far the county has mostly been spared from wildfires due to the drought, but the fire marshal urged continued caution. “The property you save may be your own,” he said.
Following the meeting last Thursday, Clark elaborated by saying there was one case where a discarded cigarette led to a garage and home being damaged by fire. Under normal circumstances a tossed down butt would not have led to a fire, but the ground is so dry now it did.
“You could do that [throw down the cigarette] 1,000 times and it wouldn’t happen normally,” he said.
Over the weekend, a smoky haze blew through the county, worrying some residents, but Clark said Monday that nothing significant here has burned. The smoke blew over the county from the more than 4,000 acre wildfire in the Cohutta Wilderness Area.
Clark cautioned homeowners with fireplaces to refrain from using them until rains have fallen. He recognized that some people must use them for heat, but debris around a chimney may be so dry that an escaping spark could lead to a roof fire. Because fireplaces are in homes, they are not subject to outdoor burning bans.
A member of the public attending the work session added he had a big pile of trash he has been waiting a long time to burn and a supply of fireworks he was planning to set off on election night “regardless of who won.” But he will gladly comply with the order and encouraged others to do the same.
Commission Chairman Rob Jones said the county water supply is in good shape, but they hope people will voluntarily conserve water through this drought.
Clark’s presentation was the main business at last Thursday’s commissioners' work session. Other items discussed:
• Liquor sale vote – In a subject where the lack of enthusiasm was evident, Commission Chair Rob Jones said “IF” they decide to put a liquor sales by the bottle question on a ballot, it should be grouped with an already planned election.
Jones acknowledged that the commissioners are looking at liquor by the bottle, but he said a special election would cost $16,000 to $20,000. If they go forward they will add this question to a required ballot, he said.
• Uniform restrictions for Burnt Mountain Preserve - The county owns/controls four adjacent parcels on Burnt Mountain that make up the 1,100 acre Burnt Mountain Preserve public area. They intend to create a single set of uniform restriction/regulations for all four parcels. Currently there are some differences in the restrictions on each parcel which hampers trail building and other uses. Commissioner Becky Denney noted it makes sense to make them all the same.
• County on track for December budget approval – County Finance officer Faye Harvey said they have compiled all the budget changes and the commissioners should be on track to approve it this December.
In a later e-mail, Harvey said, “The final budget numbers will be presented to the Board at the November 17th meeting, and they will vote to advertise the budget. At that time, there will also be a copy of the detailed proposed budget available in the finance department for public review.”
Harvey said since the initial public hearings, they have seen the projected large employee health insurance increase drop to a much lower level. Jones said later it was only 2.4 percent, when they originally feared it being over 10 percent.
Harvey said the projected budget for next year will leave about $600,000 in contingency funds, which is a level she is comfortable with. Jones said whatever amount is not used can be added to the fund balance. The county hopes to build up the fund balance to decrease the use of Tax Anticipation Notes.