FORT STEWART, Ga. - While extending a hand to help our neighbors, we also helped our own. Soldiers, Families and civilians that live in the Ludowici area are sighing in relief after a five-day fire battle that threatened both life and property. Fort Stewart Forestry Branch wildland fire crews were quickly on site March 24 to assist the Ludowici/Long County Fire Department with a large and dangerous wildfire. This fire is now known as the "Elim Church Road Fire." During that time, they were also asked to assist with a fire in McIntosh County known as the "Boggy Gall Fire."

Jeff Mangun, Directorate of Public Works Forestry Chief for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, said, "Once hearing of the fire and knowing the weather and drought conditions for the day, we contacted the Georgia Forestry Commission wildland fire staff and offered assistance." The Georgia Forestry Commission quickly responded with "send any available resources you have."

Fort Stewart deployed 30 Forestry personnel and equipment to assist with the initial attack. The crews plowed firebreaks and sprayed homes and yards with water, battling 80-foot flames and 40 mph winds. One Forestry firefighter escorted a Fort Stewart Soldier and his Family to safety when the main road leading to his house was cut off by flames. Support was provided throughout the night by actively plowing on the fire line as directed by the Georgia Forestry Commission incident commander. The Command Post was set up at the Long County Recreation Department, from which firefighters and first responders operated.

Once initial attack was over, the Georgia Forestry Commission handed the fire over to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fort Stewart then reduced its support to a strike team of three tractor/plow units with six equipment operators until released by the FEMA Incident Command Team five days later on March 28.

The Ludowici/Long County fire began in a wooded area near Elim Church Road and quickly spread to the thick forested land off Highway 84. The fire jumped Highway 84 and ignited land on the other side of the road, which led Public Safety to close Highway 84 a few times due to zero visibility.

The fire ravaged 4,035 acres and burned 10 structures, three of which were homes. Outages were caused by burned power lines throughout the area and people were evacuated from their homes. There were no known injuries reported except for a firefighter who broke his foot.

Thirty fire departments responded to the fire, and at times up to 270 firefighters were on hand. Two Chinook helicopters were flown in from Hunter to drop water on the flames.

Once the fires were suppressed, firefighters created additional firebreaks to contain possible flare-ups. Finally, firefighters received some assistance in the form of rain showers that doused the scorched land and lingering flames.

It was a tough fire to fight due to the high winds, which at times caused the fire to reach treetops and jump highways. The Elim Church Road Fire was reported to be the worst fire that the area has seen since 2007 when 2,000 acres in Long County burned. The cause of the recent blaze is unknown, but the Georgia Forestry Commission will conduct a full investigation.

The Boggy Gall Fire was much smaller than the Elim Church Road Fire, and burned only 150 acres. Without the assistance of the Fort Stewart strike team, it could have been much larger.

Stewart-Hunter has a Memorandum of Agreement with the Georgia Forestry Commission that allows for mutual aid assistance within the local area. The installation will help fire agencies in nearby counties who may need assistance, and they will likewise assist us if we request assistance.

On April 18, Col Kevin Milton, Fort Stewart garrison commander recognized the Forestry Branch employees who so bravely risked their lives to help others. He spoke of how the dedicated Forestry Branch provided assistance to the nearby counties, and still provided the needed oversight for the installation. Through these selfless efforts, land, homes and possibly lives were saved.

Page last updated Thu May 12th, 2011 at 09:00