ALBANY, GA (WALB) – The Georgia Forestry Commission has cut 10 percent of its budget. 60 positions are being cut this time around. They aren't filling vacancies, workers are being laid off and even the Clay county office along with four others across the state is closing. This is troublesome for rangers because they predict this could be a very busy wildfire season.
It's really cooling off here in Southwest Georgia and this is the time when wildfires pick up. Plus it's been an unusually dry summer and fall. On top of that there is a significantly smaller number of rangers in our area because of state budget cuts.
It's a beautiful fall morning and forest rangers are plowing fire breaks...a typical day as temperatures in Southwest Georgia begin to drop. But the department is concerned about the future.
"We've lost about 120 positions statewide since 2009. That's a very high percentage of the workforce," said Greg Findley with the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Extremely dry conditions are already making for a busier than normal wildfire season. And as the Forestry Commission faces budget cuts, response times could increase by 15 minutes.
"I've been working with the Forestry Commission for 25 years and I'm extremely worried about it. With less people it makes workers have to sometimes work weekends and holidays," said Findley.
In the 16 Southwest Georgia counties Greg Findley manages, they've lost eight firefighters in recent cuts and aren't filling vacancies. The Clay county office is even closing its doors.
"I've lost five people in the past year who have left mostly because of financial reasons. And we haven't had a pay raise in a long time. So we're losing people and that creates a greater burden on the people I have left," said Findley.
Now rangers are pleading for caution from people who burn outdoors and ask that no one burn without first contacting the Forestry Commission for a permit. Because now more than ever it's important for your safety and theirs.
Remember we're still in a drought in Southwest Georgia. Help the Forestry Commission out. Call before you burn that day and don't forget to get a permit by calling 1-877-OK2-BURN. Rangers also say you should stay with your fire at all times and have water and maybe a shovel and rake on hand.
Rangers say last year around this time it was very wet and they didn't have a lot of fires, only around 35. This year they've already had 147 and they are fighting those fires with less employees.