The entire George County, Mississippi County Wildfire Protection Plan is available for download by clicking HERE.
George County is located in the southeastern portion of the State of Mississippi and is rural in character. The only incorporated area is the City of Lucedale. The county is strategically located between Mobile, Alabama; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and the Mississippi Gulf Coast cities of Pascagoula, Biloxi and Gulfport. State Highway 63 and U.S. Highway 98 are major transportation corridors to the north and south. State Highway 26 travels east through George County and terminates in Lucedale. Highway 98 provides direct access to Mobile and the City of Hattiesburg. Highway 63 provides access to Pascagoula and Moss Point on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The population of George County in 2000 was 19,144, showing a 14.8% growth in residency since 1990. This is a much faster growth rate than the 9% reported for the previous ten-year period from 1980-1990. Estimates projected by Angelou Economics as part of the Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan commissioned by Governor Haley Barbour in 2006 indicate that George County experienced a 14% population increase between 2005 and 2006; this increase was attributed primarily to the migration of coastal county residents following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a 2006 population of 21,430, reflecting an 11.9% increase from 2000. By 2010, the population is expected to rise to 22,817.
George County contains 483 square miles with land largely held by private landowners. Approximately 72% of the county land area is contained within commercial forests. The DeSoto National Park is located in George County. Recreational activities in the area are enhanced by the proximity of DeSoto National Forest, Red Creek Game Management Area, Pascagoula Game Management Area, and the Pascagoula and Escatawpa Rivers. The Bilbo Basin Shell Deposit Site in George County is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (prehistoric resource). The George County Courthouse and the Merrill Bridge have been named Mississippi Landmarks.
Located in the Coastal Plain, George County is heavily influenced by the coastal climate and is mild, with mean annual temperatures in the upper 60’s. Average winter temperatures range from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit with summer temperatures ranging from 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. County wind speeds are generally less than 10 miles per hour, with a high peak near 11 during the month of March, and a low below 7 in August. Speeds often increase during thunderstorms, which occur frequently and are sometimes accompanied by strong to severe winds, including tornadoes. Average rainfall amounts range from 3.72” in the Fall to 6.04” in the Summer. Rainfall in the County is drained through the Pascagoula River Basin, comprising about 8800 square miles as Mississippi’s second largest basin. The Basin empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Pascagoula. Major streams in the County include the Pascagoula, Leaf, and Chickasawhay Rivers, and the Black and Red Creeks. Bottomland hardwood forests cover 77% of the Pascagoula River area, along with aquatic habitats (14%), pine forests (4%), freshwater scrub/shrub (2%), and mixed habitats (3%).
Because of relatively high annual precipitation amounts, George County is not usually prone to property-damaging wildfires. However, occasional drought-like conditions prompt fire service officials to issue bans against burning, and encroachment of urban development into wildlands becomes more of a concern. Since the beginning of 2007, fire activity has been concentrated primarily in those parts of the United States that have experienced drought and abnormally dry conditions. Drought conditions contribute to an enhanced risk of wildfires affecting populated areas in George County. For the Southeast region of the United States, the first 6 months of the year have been persistently dry. In fact, December 2006-May 2007 has been drier than average for 7 of the past 9 years. Mississippi had the driest December-May in their 113-year record. The latest U. S. Drought Monitor report (November 27, 2007) indicates that the majority of George County is not currently considered to be in a drought condition, except for a very small portion of the northeast corner of the County, which is categorized as D0, Abnormally Dry.
About 80 percent of the land in George County is use-classified as timber, open, or agriculture, creating an enhanced risk to the county of wildfires. Streams and drainage basins create natural barriers that help reduce this risk. Woodlands fires are controlled by rural firefighting departments and/or forestry service personnel. Over the last three years, 938 wildfires (all woods fires) have been recorded in George County according to local volunteer fire department run, or call-out, records. Based on historical occurrences, wildfires can be expected annually in the less urbanized parts of the county. It is the threat of a spread of rural wildfires to the urban fringe that poses the greatest concern. Mitigation measures such as prescribed burns, training and equipping firefighters, and public education on fire protection and Firewise strategies all help to control the risk to life and property.
While climate conditions and debris can cause ignitability, certain industrial operations and facilities can also raise the threat of fire. These include the storage and/or transportation of flammable, toxic, and/or explosive materials. In George County, the County Cooperative stores a variety of hazardous materials. American Tank & Vessel, a major George County business, houses Type 2 hazards, which are addressed in the County’s CEMP. Several pipelines crisscross George County and pose certain associated risks. Of the four pipelines in George County, two transport natural gas, one transports crude oil, and one transports diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene, and turbine fuel.
George County has seen tremendous growth over the last several years. Most of the growth has been in the southern portion of the county. Due to this growth, there has been an increase in the development that the George County Volunteer Fire Departments protect. As development increases in the future so will the demands placed on the volunteer fire departments. George County is divided into four fire grading districts covering the unincorporated portions of the county. Three of the districts are rated Class 8 and one district is rated Class 10. All the firefighters are volunteers and receive no compensation for the fire protection services. The fire grading districts all have a firefighter who has completed medical first responder’s training. Assistance is given to the George County Ambulance Service upon request. Total number of volunteers is based on current staffing levels, but seasonal fluctuations occur.