By MYRA THRIFT Staff Writer
Banks has years of experience with the forestry service under his belt, having been employed with Rayonier for years, then the Pierce County Forestry Unit in Patterson and finally as leader of the local GFC unit.
During both of the heavy fire storms that Ware County endured in 2007 and 2011, Banks was here working with firefighters, plowing firebreaks and staying busy in several capacities.
“An opening became available and it was a chance for me to come back home,” said Banks. “I’ve lived here all my life. I graduated Ware County High School in 1976.”
After high school, he attended what was then Waycross-Ware Tech and earned a degree in forest technology. He and his wife, Keisha, have two children, Breanne Morris, of Vidalia, and Clinton Banks, of Waycross. He also has two step-children, Kuff Thrift and Pearce Thrift.
He worked with Rayonier until 2007 managing 120,000 acres of forest land, then started with GFC working in Baxley before his stint in Patterson.
Banks will be stationed at the Georgia Forestry Division located at the Waycross-Ware County Airport, but whenever there is a need, he will be seen in the field of service.
Recent rains, Banks said, have helped to soothe the existing drought and more rain is anticipated through the weekend and next week. That rainfall can easily give area residents a “sense of security” that could come to an end abruptly if the area goes without rain for several days.
This time of year, Banks said, wildfires can kindle without notice if conditions are ripe.
“We are only two weeks away from fire season, even with the rain,” said Banks. “This is projected to be a dry summer. Our drought index remains up around 380. The rain has been beneficial, but the river was very low and with the heat and humidity, it can really get dry in a hurry.”
If the drought index goes over 400 to 450, conditions can become critical in short order and one small fire can become a monster if there’s no appreciable rainfall.
“We had 4 inches (of rain) this week and another inch Wednesday, in excess of 5 inches now, but if it stops, we really have to be careful,” Banks said.
(His comments preceded Thursday’s deluge; at around 6 to 7 p.m., locationa all across the Waycross area got as many as 2 inches in a short time span.)
The edges of the swamp have been extremely dry, Banks said. And that’s where lightning can kick off a fire on a given afternoon that can grow into a huge problem.
“We are as prepared as we can be at this particular time,” said Banks. “We have a lot of equipment, new tractors at all the units. But we always challenge the people to be cautious and to be careful with fires.”
Although the GFC is still issuing fire permits, it is done on a daily basis and more is considered than just wind. The heaviness of the air, the quality of the air, whether the atmospheric conditions allow for smoke to evaporate, those are all conditions that are considered.
“Permit decisions are made on a day-to-day basis,” said Banks.
He urges everyone to clean away bushes and shrubs from near their homes and do anything they can to keep fire away from their houses.
The Georgia Forestry Air Unit is also located in Waycross and has two pilots on-site.
“Our force is well prepared, highly trained and work together well,” said Banks.
He also commended the Ware County Fire Department for the way the firefighters perform in times of emergency.
“They work hand-in-hand with us and do a monumental job,” said Banks. “They are good.”
Banks said that although the Georgia Forestry is not fighting a fire right now, they can still be of service to landowners. They have tractors that can go out and plow firebreaks around large forest plots and get prepared in the event a fire does start.
Anyone needing assistance from Georgia Forestry may contact Banks at 338-5967.