USA — Like most people, Stewart Turner travels during the summer. Unlike theaverage person, however, Turner’s travel plans for the past 26 years haverevolved around wildfires.
During the school year, Turner is a forestry consultant for local landowners.Once summer comes, however, the Upland resident heads to wherever his help isneeded in dealing with wildfires.
He currently is serving as a fire behavior analyst in Georgia, where he wascommissioned to help by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Turner is aiding a team that is battling the largest wildfire Georgia hasever seen, one that has consumed more than 475,000 acres since mid-April and isamong the most widespread and devastating wildfires in U.S. history.
The initial fire began April 16 and another fire began May 5. Together, thesefires have devoured more than 742 square miles, an area roughly half as large asthe state of Rhode Island, and are threatening the Okefenokee National WildlifeRefuge.
“They’ve had a long-term drought. It’s been 92 days without anysignificant rain down here,” Turner said.
Turner’s job as an analyst is to predict what the behavior of the fire willbe and how fast it is going to burn.
“I predict based on the weather, the fuels and the topography (of thearea),” he said.
Although Turner said he expects the wildfire to continue to grow, he andother workers were encouraged by weather reports that were predicting rain,which Turner said would help firefighters get a better handle on the blaze.
Turner said many people who live in the Okefenokee Swamp region have had tobe evacuated, and he said the fire has taken an emotional toll on the area.
“People are tired. They’ve been dealing with this since mid-April,”Turner said. “There are a lot of small communities down here. It looks likeGrant County, only instead of corn fields, it’s full of pine trees for timberproduction.”
While the danger of working near wildfires is admittedly high, Turner saidthe reward of helping communities makes it worth the risk.
“The biggest thing (I enjoy) is coming into places like this and helpingthe local folks with the problems they have (and) being able to help out andlend a hand,” he said.