Blue Ridge, Ga. – At the most recent Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, the public got to hear first hand the accomplishments of several departments within the Fannin County government.
Among the departments represented was the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Recreation Department, and Public Works.
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS ARTS ASSOCIATION (BRMAA)
BRMAA saw over 38,000 visitors in 2018. The economic benefits of having this many visitors to the area are estimated to be $493,000 locally and $1.1 million for the region.
“These numbers are based on Georgia Council for the Arts as well as Americans for the Arts Economic Operations,” BRMAA Executive Director Nichole Potzauf said explaining how economic impact is decided.
The Art Center hosted 37 exhibits and events in 2018 and was awarded the 2018-19 Vibrant Communities Grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts.
The Vibrant Communities Grants helps to support single art projects in Georgia. These projects could include an art exhibit, a theater production, a series of workshops for children, or an artist residency.
Potzauf said of the intentions for the grant’s use, “We’re utilizing that to begin a program call the Appalachian Initiative Grant Program and we are focusing on Appalachian craft and culture.” She listed some examples including weaving and bee keeping.
Along with the exhibits and events, the Art Center also hosted 4198 students that attended one of their 190 classes offered.
There was a notable success from the annual Cork and Canvas fundraiser as well.
“All the proceeds from this event benefit our youth programming. In 2018, based on just that fundraiser alone we were able to provide $2,000 in youth scholarships, some art classes as well as college advancement for any student that is advancing their career in the college arts,” Potzauf said of this event, and reminded everyone that the 2019 Cork and Canvas fundraiser is approaching and will be held on March 29.
Expect to see a one of a kind exhibit displayed between April and June of 2020 as it makes its way across the state of Georgia.
While no specific details were given Potzauf did say of the future exhibit, “We have been selected as one of six cities in the state of Georgia to represent the Smithsonian exhibit that will be coming here to celebrate rural communities throughout the United States.”
Currently the Art Center is displaying over 1,800 pieces of artwork and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
FANNIN COUNTY LAND DEVELOPMENT
The Land Development department saw 270 building permits in 2018. This number is slightly down from 2017. Along with the building permits there were 16 Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plans, 5 new residential developments, 2 private commercial developments, 2 apartment applications, 2 church developments, 2 assisted living developments, 1 school development, and 1 tiny home/RV park development.
One of the largest issues facing the Land Development department is the ongoing matter of litter control.
“I get about one or two calls a week about garbage. Sometimes it’s easy and I find the name in it and sometimes I can run down those folks and sometimes I can’t,” Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the complications in combating the littering problem in Fannin County.
According to Woody, while there are fines in place for Fannin County residents who dump trash on the side of roadways when it comes to residents from out of state, if found, little or nothing can be done.
Those that litter in Fannin County or dump garbage on the side of the roadways and are from Tennessee or North Carolina often get off with no consequences because Woody simply does not have the jurisdiction to fine them.
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed his feelings that a majority of the trash he encounters along the roadways is bulk, and expressed holding the garbage haulers in the county more responsible.
“Is there something in our ordinance where someone has to identify themselves as a garbage hauler?” Johnson questioned Woody about possible solutions. “I know for four years it’s been a huge issue. It just seems like this last year, maybe two years, there’s just a lot more private haulers.”
After brief discussion the members of the Board of Commissioners and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss, all agreed to review the county’s current ordinances and look into the possibility of having private haulers register.
Woody, along with Fannin County residents Steve and Jane Oakley presented the county with a vision to start an “Adopt the Mountains” program.
The program, still in its conceptual phase, will aim to curb littering through education, and will work to get citizens more involved in area clean-ups.
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton praised the Oakleys for their willingness to get involved: “I’m personally very grateful for citizens that step up and are willing to get their hands in the soup, so to speak. It’s a never ending battle and it takes a lot of people to make that effort to see some results.”
When questioned by the Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson about an education program for high school age children, Woody replied that she thought it would be better to focus the educational programs on younger children.
“I think we need to teach the children, not the teenagers,” Woody said responding to Patterson’s question. “When you get into the teenage years, you’re kind of set in what you’re going to do, but if we start ingraining it into the children maybe kindergarten, first, second grade; if we can educate them I think that would be your best bet. Then they could educate mom and dad.”
Woody said that the educational program could go hand in hand with the proposed Spring Clean Up outlined in the Oakley’s program.
Along with the new programs hoped to be initiated in the county, Woody will be seeking another Tire Grant clean up.
In 2018, a tire removal project was implemented through use of this grant and was met with great success. Woody is hoping to continue this momentum in the county.
Finally Woody would like to see Fannin County’s Adopt a Road program revamped. Advanced Disposal has agreed to pick up specific colored bags along the roadways where citizens have collected litter.
FANNIN COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROL
Fannin County Animal Control (FCAC), Animal Control Officer, John Drullinger updated the BOC with the work that his department had accomplished in 2018.
Last year, FCAC took in 405 dogs and puppies. Of the 405 that were taken in 118 were reclaimed by owners, 83 were adopted out of the facility, and 189 were pulled by various animal rescues.
Drullinger spoke of the improvements done to the FCAC facility in 2018: “Without a doubt one of the biggest ones was the completion of the 13 outside dog kennels. Which improved both the animals lives and ours as well.”
According to Drullinger this addition to the facility has made a vast improvement on the reduction of noise, and has added greatly to the safety of employees as they now can more easily get into kennels for disinfecting.
“Our new volunteer program has been a huge success. We’ve got some days up to 10 or 12 volunteers down there walking our dogs, helping clean, do laundry, work with some of the shy dogs, some of the fearful ones, teaching them tricks,” Drullinger said of the recently implemented program. “Some of our volunteers are doing legs of transports helping move some of the dogs out, helping rescues.”
Johnson spoke of the volunteers at FCAC improving the cause, “The other people that have been getting involved here recently, I hope they keep it up , keep the interest.”
“We have a great group of people. Some come pretty regular, some come on certain days, some come everyday. They are very motivated and willing to help out,” Drullinger affirmed Johnson’s thoughts and added that the FCAC donor program has been a huge success as well with people donating items such as blankets, towels, toys and treats for the dogs.
The local area animal rescues were acknowledged for their help in moving dogs out of the facility and into permanent homes. A new group, Team Dahlonega, has also stepped up, helping to advertise the dogs held at FCAC and raise pledges for individual dogs to be pulled into rescues.
Drullinger said of Team Dahlonega’s efforts, “That’s been instrumental in helping us with our rescues, that have already been helping us move out a lot more dogs.”
The efforts of the volunteers, rescues and staff are noticeable. As of this update there were only six dogs in the facility. Drullinger said of this accomplishment, “That’s lowest number that has ever been there since I’ve been there.”
Drullinger closed his update with a reminder: “I would like to remind the public about ID-ing their dogs. If we had more people have ID’s on the collars and / or micro-chipped we could get dogs back to the owners a lot quicker and sooner.”
FANNIN COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY AND FANNIN COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Deputy Director Darrell Payne and Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) Fire Chief Larry Thomas updated the BOC and residents on the busy year the departments had.
“Last year we had a busy call season,” said Payne before giving the statistics of 911 calls in Fannin County.
The EMA / EMS received 3,641 911 calls in 2018. There were an additional 1,115 non emergency calls that the department handled.
According to Thomas the FCFD responded to 416 fire calls, nine structure fires, three commercial fires, and one chimney fire.
“Several years ago we had several chimney fires. We were looking at anywhere from 12 to 15 on a given year,” Thomas spoke on the importance of having chimneys inspected, a step that can easily help to prevent a home fire. “Now these numbers have gotten down and I’m hoping that it’s our education that we are spreading throughout the county as far as cleaning chimneys. Right now is the most dangerous time of the year.”
Thomas explained that most chimneys are now prefabricated. Fires in these chimneys can easily spread to structures such as attics and rooftops.
EMA / EMS also received two new ambulances which were placed in the Dial section of Fannin County, and hope to obtain a new ambulance in 2019 to replace one currently located at Station 4 in McCaysville.
Both Thomas and Payne reported that emergency calls are on the rise in the county, and Thomas attributes many of these calls taking place from people exploring the outdoors in our area: “We’re having more and more trail calls.”
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke of the importance of residents in Fannin County marking their homes and properties with signage that is easily visible to emergency crews: “A lot of people get black and black just blends in.”
Blue reflective number signs can be purchased at Kevin Panter Insurance. These signs, usually placed at the beginning of driveways, are clearly and highly visible which saves time for responders during an emergency situation.
A portion of the money received from the purchase of these signs goes directly back to the Fannin County EMS department.
“It does help. It really does. It reflects, it’s right at the end of the driveway,” Thomas said speaking of the blue signs available for purchase to the public.
“We have just recently moved into our new facility and we are very proud of it,” Payne spoke of the progress taking place at the new Fannin County Public Safety Complex, “and we want to thank the commissioners, you all for supporting us on that. It’s something we’ve needed for a long time. I think it’s something that the people, the county, can be proud of also.”
FANNIN COUNTY PARKS AND RECREATION
The Fannin County Parks and Recreation Department had a successful year. Many new programs were added to benefit those living in Fannin County and those visiting.
In 2018, 820 children participated in some kind of youth activity offered by the department.
The third annual Basketball Christmas Tournament also brought in large numbers for the county. Sixty-six teams participated in the three day tournament which took place Dec. 26-28. A total of 116 games were played with an average of 2,000 in attendance throughout each day.
“We had a kid playing on the Forsyth team and FetchYourNews, they broadcast it live through Youtube and we had a dad who was a marine,” Fannin County Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal spoke of how the tournament had international attention in 2018, “He got in contact with us and said he appreciated it. It was the first time he saw his kid play basketball in two years. It was amazing to be able to provide that to someone.”
Events like this tournament have large economic impacts on the county as whole. Visitors stay in hotels, rent cabins, eat at local restaurants, shop in locally owned stores, and many times plan to come back to our area for a second visit.
Parks and Recreation brought in $57,078.43 in youth concession sales, $52,257.60 in admission fees, and $59,574 in registrations in 2018. Pavillion rentals at parks added an additional $7,775, along with nonresident gym use fees for $3,051, after school programs at $20,860, summer day camp an additional $20,556.25, and $30, 568 food grant for summer day camp was obtained. Major programs accounted for approximately $251, 721.23, bringing a grand revenue total to approximately $280,000.
“That comes from tons of volunteers in the county. People that volunteer to help with programs, volunteer to coach, or volunteer to tutor with our after school program. We really do appreciate all the help,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke of the Parks and Recreation Department’s success.
Johnson added, “The complaints I’ve received have been very minimal and what that tells me is you’re running the programs the way the should be ran and handling problems the way they should be handled. I appreciate you doing that.”
“Being in sports myself and education, the job you do with the young kids is very commendable,” Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson complimented the work being done by the department.
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added to this, “I think the public, I hope they understand, certainly the parents do, what a relationship our Recreation Department is. I mean it’s for everyone, young and old alike.”
O’Neal shared plans to to begin senior programs in 2019: “Starting in February we will start a Silver Sneakers program for active senior adults. We have an employee trained to handle that exercise program that will take place two times a week.”
This new Silver Sneakers program will be an exercise based program specially geared towards an older crowd. The class size, initially, will accommodate 10 to 15 people.
Next up for Parks and Recreation will be a restroom remodel at their main facility. Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with a bid from Wolfcreek Builders, LLC. in the amount of $50,075.
This remodel would include a metal roof, hardy plank siding, tiling the interior space, all new fixtures, and metal doors. The contract is for labor only. The county will supply materials.
Heating and air for the newly remodeled space will take place in a separate bid.
FANNIN COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS
Zack Ratcliff, Director of Public Works in Fannin County, has not only managed to cut the department’s expenses by close to $1,000,000 in just two years but his management has also led the Public Works department to more than double productivity in many areas.
In 2016 the Public Works department had 53 employees with a budget of $1,826,505 in payroll alone. The number of employees dramatically decreased by 2017 to 35. This brought payroll expenditures down to $1,308,744.
By 2018 employee total for the department sits at 36 with a payroll of $1,289,868. This alone has brought a little over $500,000 in savings to taxpayers each year.
In the last year, roughly 117 miles of road have been re-striped, 12 miles of road have been paved, 25 miles of road have been chip and sealed, the Aska Transfer Station also received chip and seal, as well as the Recreation Center parking area, 28 culverts have been installed, 600 road signs have been cleaned and straightened, and 649 new road signs were created for use throughout the county.
Johnson commented on how this kind of productivity saves money for residents: “The numbers that I see that aren’t reflected in these numbers, of other savings, is when you chip and seal a road, that is that many roads we’re not having to gravel, to grade or to maintain, other than clogged ditches and what have you. So really it’s hard to put a number on that (indirect savings).”
While the payroll is the most dramatic of the savings, other areas have improved in expenditures as well. The Fuel Master system was installed to track fuel use leading to greater accountability, through negotiations with various vendors the county is now receiving 2-10 percent discounts on its bills, and a new uniform provider was found that can provide uniforms at half the cost that the county was previously paying.
Ratcliff credits the success of the Public Works department to the employees in it and stated of the workers, “My crew is an efficient crew. Everybody’s professional.”
Johnson spoke of the dramatic affect one department can have on Fannin County as a whole, “These numbers right here is what keeps Fannin County’s millage rate the lowest in the state.”
“I think this is a great example of being able to professionally manage a department and do it effectively,” Helton added his thoughts on the accomplishments, “That’s real money. That’s big time money.”
The 2017 audit showed the initially savings of the now more efficient Public Works department as being $999,333.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Fire Department along with the Fannin County Volunteer Firefighter Department would like to give a huge thank you to the public for their support and show what the donations provide for the citizens of Fannin County.
In an impressive display the Fire Department laid out equipment purchased in recent years that were directly funded from donations collected by the volunteer firefighters.
“We’ve been blessed here in the county for the last 3 years,” volunteer firefighter Kevin Panter said of the public’s donations, “it’s either been right at $100,000 or over $100,000 (per year), so the citizens have been very good.”
Through the volunteer firefighters’ mail-out program, in which those with Fannin County addresses receive a mailer asking for their support, the department has been able to purchase a number of life saving pieces of equipment.
Volunteer firefighters then decide what items and equipment is needed to assist the county “over and above” what is already funded. Once purchased all the equipment becomes county property.
One item that is purchased regularly through volunteer firefighter funds is Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), also known as “Turnout Gear” and “Bunker Gear”. This is the protective gear worn by firefighters during emergency calls.
Panter said of the gear, “It takes over $3000 just to get a firefighter with minimal essential equipment.”
It is estimated that through these donated funds, the volunteer firefighters suit up between five to ten members of the volunteer group annually.
It is not just these smaller purchases that public donations has funded, as Panter pointed out, while showing a river boat that had also been acquired in recent years: “It’s a low water river boat. We run probably 10 to 15 calls a year of people stranded in the river.”
“Our biggest purchase that the volunteers have ever made is Rescue 2,” Panter said as he pointed to a rescue truck parked in the bay of Fannin County’s new Public Safety Complex.
Rescue 2 is housed at the Mineral Buff station and came with an approximate price tag of $78,000.
“That was truly bought by the volunteers, by the volunteer funds,” Panter added of the volunteers’ largest purchase.
Life saving equipment has also been updated through the volunteer firefighter funds. Among the tools purchased are Rescue Rams, or Telescopic Rams. This equipment, capable of pushing apart compressed areas such as metal that has been twisted in a vehicle accident, is used with cutters and spreaders to extricate victims of road traffic incidents or collapsed buildings.
Also among the vehicle rescue equipment were two sets of Vehicle Stabilization Struts, used commonly in the event of a vehicle rollover. A set of struts when purchased has a cost of $2,600.
In the last 30 days the fire department has been able to purchase an additional $68,000 worth of new equipment. A major portion of this cost, at $12,000 per piece, was in the purchase of three new eDraulic (electric/hydraulic) Extrication Tools, more commonly known as the Jaws of Life.
“That one right there is a combination tool. It spreads and it cuts,” Panter said explaining the benefits of the newly designed Jaws of Life.
The new, more compact version of the Jaws of Life is battery powered and capable of being operated by a single person. This is in contrast to the older, but still reliable version which is gas powered.
Older versions of the Jaws of Life are a bit more cumbersome for rescuers to use, with a bulkier mass, their setup and operation requires more time and personnel to employ.
“It can be a minimum of four minutes to eight minutes before we’re actually ready to start cutting on a car,” Panter said of the older version and added of the newly purchased equipment, “Now we get off the truck, get our gear, I grab that thing and as soon as I put it in my hand it’s working.”
Lastly, the volunteer firefighters purchased 18 new Thermal Imaging Cameras (TIC). These newer TICs are much smaller, lighter in weight and can attach to a firefighter’s PPE.
These TICs are valued at about $700 each, but through bundle purchasing the volunteer firefighters were able to get a discount on this price.
The compact, lightweight camera has two settings utilized by emergency personnel. The first of which is a type of temperature gauge allowing rescuers to search buildings for hot spots, which are particularly active parts of a fire or places where fire might still be active but is concealed.
A second setting allows rescuers to “see through the smoke”. Panter pointed out that this setting is particularly helpful when trying to locate victims, both human and animal, in a fire.
Fire and Rescue Chief Larry Thomas spoke of the donations and the staff of volunteer firefighters in Fannin County: “I can’t say enough for the volunteers and for the community to pull and actually give us donations, as to the way that we’ve been receiving them, it’s heartfelt.”
“The county stands behind us. We’ve got donations that actually come in from people in FL that has properties here. It is really tremendous the way the community does us when it comes to donations,” Thomas said expressing thanks on the department’s behalf, and added a personal thank you to the volunteers, “For the volunteers of the department their out there in the middle of the night, of the mornings, of the day. They’re always there, and it does, it helps out a lot.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Fannin County Volunteer Firefighter Fund, donations may be dropped off in person at the new Fannin County Public Safety Complex located on Windy Ridge Road in Blue Ridge, Ga. or you can make a donation through the Volunteer Firefighters annual mailer program.
Aluminum cans are also collected at Advanced Disposal waste collection and recycling facilities. The proceeds from the aluminum can collection directly fund the Fannin County Fire Department’s public educational outreach program.
Featured Photo : (L-R) Rob Ross Deputy Fire Chief, Sandy Walden Capt Station 5, Larry Thomas Fire & Rescue Chief, Tony Galloway Lt Station 1, Virginia Jones Volunteer Fire, Larry Waters Volunteer Fire, Bill Marsh Capt Station 13, Channing Johnstone Volunteer Fire, Jacob Queen Volunteer Fire, Kevin Panter Volunteer Fire, Robert Castlen Volunteer Fire, Bill Jones Volunteer Fire, Brad Beaver Volunteer Fire
Blue Ridge, Ga. – “I would like to say at this time, thanks to the public for the donations, and the taxpayers here in the county that are taking care of us,” Fannin County Fire Chief Larry Thomas spoke to the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Tuesday about the purchase of new equipment for the department.
The Fannin County Fire Department will see an upgrade to their life-saving hydraulic extraction tools, better known as the Jaws of Life.
Thomas informed the BOC that volunteer firefighters had voted late in 2018 to use money from their donation account to purchase the new equipment: “The volunteers, in one of our volunteer meetings, voted to go ahead and start upgrading the Jaws of Life, the extrication tools that we carry on some of our vehicles.”
After researching pricing, the fire department chose to go with Hurst to provide this new equipment. Hurst now provides a battery operated version of this tool that can be operated by a single person.
This upgrade will save time for local rescuers who are often put in situations where every minute matters.
“Before, in the beginning, way back, it took two people to use a set of jaws,” Thomas said explaining the importance of the equipment upgrade.
The total price for three new sets of Jaws of Life would come to approximately $60,000. Thomas explained that his department had already put $17,000 towards this total with the intention of applying another $7,300 in the near future.
Although the fire department has enough funds available in the donation account, Thomas stated that they would like to finance the remaining amount of approximately $35,000 as to not deplete all monies currently in the donation account.
In order finance this remaining balance, Fannin County would need to “cosign” for the loan, as most banks cannot loan to volunteer groups.
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked for clarification on the terms of the loan being sought, to which Thomas replied that they would be seeking a three year repayment period.
Although the loan terms would be set for three years, Thomas stated, “We’re hoping to pay it off next year” and pointed to the history the department has with paying off any loan debt before the loan fully matures.
“I think it’s a great thing really,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton expressed his opinion before the vote. “I appreciate the volunteers and the money they have brought in to pay for equipment that is going to serve the public.”
The three commissioners voted in favor of signing off on a loan for the fire department, and bringing this life saving upgrade to the county.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – A lightning strike is responsible for a fire that ended with the total loss of a family home in Blue Ridge.
The Fannin County Fire Department was dispatched to a call of a reported lightning strike shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, May 31. After stepping out the door of Fire Station 1 in downtown Blue Ridge, Fire Chief Larry Thomas quickly realized that the reported lightning strike had resulted in a fire.
Smoke was seen from downtown Blue Ridge bellowing high into the air quickly turning from a light gray smoke to a deep black.
“Black smoke is what you get from house fires,” Thomas explained of the sight from downtown Blue Ridge. “The synthetic materials that make up a home and that are found in a home will account for this.”
Thomas described pulling up to the scene of the fire: “We arrived less than 10 minutes after dispatch and found the house 40 to 50 percent involved with flames that had already vented through the roof.”
When arriving on the scene, crews were able to move three vehicles near the structure. These vehicles are known as exposures.
Exposures are potentials for a fire resulting from another fire outside of the primary building, structure, or vehicle. In this case crews identified the vehicles as having a potential for resulting in a secondary hazard and were able to remove them safely.
Firefighters were also able to protect a nearby garage and two other vehicles from becoming part of the inferno.
The home located on Wild Iris Trail belongs to the Tankersley family, owners of Willow Creek Falls and Vineyard. While the family was not physically harmed during the fire, it has been confirmed that some of their beloved pets were unable to escape.
Despite time-saving tactics and added water supply, fire fighters were unable to save the home, and it was deemed a total loss.
While the weather of the evening aided in containing the fire to the structure, it also combated efforts to save the home itself.
Thomas stated the rains helped to keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding terrain, but the steady winds that accompanied the storms progressed the fire through the home.
“The wind would shift direction and that affected the high fire. It would actually force the fire back into and down through the attic space,” Thomas said, explaining how the fire spread, “and then the low fire was just eating its way in on the ground.”
The fire began as a result of a lightning strike to a nearby tree. The electricity from the strike moved through the roots of the tree where it made contact with underground utilities, and moved into the home.
Fires resulting from lightning strikes are seen annually in our area. Most notably seen in recent times, the Cohutta Wilderness Wildfire destroyed thousands of acres and lasted several months in late 2016.
“Lightning doesn’t have to hit your house to start the fire,” Thomas explained of the nature of fires caused by lightning. “It can strike anything nearby, a tree or utilities. It can then travel through the tree roots or underground lines, anything that conducts electricity, and reach the home.”
Firefighters responded to a second call of a lightning strike-induced fire on the evening of May 31. This strike had moved through a gas line connecting to a home. The homeowner in this case was able to shut off the gas supply and extinguish the fire before major damage was done.
“The best thing people can do, is just stay vigilant during these storms,” Thomas said as he acknowledged the unpredictability of storms and lightning in general.
Crews were on the scene of the house fire on Wild Iris Trail for approximately seven hours. A total of 22 firefighters helped to combat the blaze. Medics, as well as members of the Fannin County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), were also present to provide emergency personnel with rehabilitation services such as oxygen and a dry area. Fannin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to direct traffic.
[Featured image: The home located on Wild Iris Trail as fire fighters worked to battle the blaze.]
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The portion of Davis Street located between East Main Street and East First Street is currently closed due to a diesel fuel leak.
Blue Ridge city crews as well as local law enforcement and officials from the fire department are on the scene to close off the street and direct traffic.
Crews from Atlanta are en route to help with clean up. Not only will the roadway need to be properly cleaned of any remaining chemicals from the initial spill, but neighboring yards will also have to be excavated to rid the area of contamination.
Fire Chief Larry Thomas is on the scene and said to expect the roadway to be closed for at least another three hours.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Emergency Response Teams responded to several fire-related calls over the weekend and into early Monday morning.
On Saturday evening, the Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) responded to a 9:12 p.m. call of a residential fire at a rental cabin on 885 Brittney Dr. in Epworth. Crews arrived on scene at 9:34 p.m.
According to Fire Chief Larry Thomas, the fire began in an outside chimney and quickly spread to endanger the house. Fourteen firefighters along with three engines and two tankers were able to contain the fire to the chimney.
No injuries were sustained as a result of the incident, Thomas said.
Later in the weekend, FCFD was dispatched to a report of a fire located at the Mineral Springs apartment complex at 3:46 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26.
Kelly Wisner, a resident of Mineral Springs Apartments, recounted the events that took place that afternoon. “I had just woken up from a nap and looked out my window,” Wisner explained. “I saw smoke and told my husband the building across from us was on fire. We immediately got on our shoes and split.”
Kelly Wisner and her husband, Jason Wisner, ran to the building that was on fire and adjacent buildings to warn residents of the fire and the need to evacuate and move their vehicles. Kelly Wisner also placed a call to 911 during this time.
Meanwhile, Jason Wisner ran into the building that was aflame and banged on doors alerting everyone to get out. Kelly Wisner, when speaking of her husband’s courageous act, said, “He doesn’t look at himself as a hero. He just says that he did what anyone would do.”
Chief Thomas stated the fire started on the back deck of a ground floor unit. Thomas said, “The fire traveled up the wall to the second floor and into the attic. We were able to put the fire out in the apartment that it had engulfed and put the fire out in the attic.”
According to a representative with Mineral Springs Apartments, three units suffered damaged due to the fire. All units in the building, however, must remain vacated until an inspection can be done and power is restored.
In addition to the residents who got out of the building safely, FCFD also reports that they were able to rescue six cats, one pet snake and one pet canary.
FCFD also responded to a fire located at the Open Arms home. A call came in at 8:36 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, and units were on scene within 18 minutes.
Open Arms is a nonprofit organization for children who have been abused or neglected. The program offers a number of services including short-term residential care.
According to a post made on Open Arms Facebook page:
“It’s with a sad heart that I inform you that around 8:30 p.m. last night (Sunday Night) a fire occurred at the Open Arms Home for Children. All of our girls and staff got out of the home safely and unharmed but our home is most likely a complete loss.”
It went on to say:
“God spared our girls and staff tonight. A few hours later and they all might have been in a deep sleep and the outcome could have been much more devastating.”
A state investigator was on the scene of the Open Arms home fire for suspected arson. Captain Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department was able to confirm that the fire was intentionally set and a juvenile is currently in custody.
The case remains an open investigation.
At 1:49 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27, FCFD responded to the scene of a truck fire at Advanced Disposal located at 10169 Lakewood Hwy. in Mineral Bluff.
One of Advanced Disposal’s compactor trucks had caught fire. The cause of the fire is undetermined and currently still under investigation.
No one was injured during this fire. The compactor truck suffered significant damage and damage to other vehicles parked nearby was also reported .
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Snow continues to fall on Fannin County as Winter Storm Benji makes its way out of our region. Residents around the county have reported anywhere from five to eight inches of snow, some reporting more in localized areas.
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham says that we are in for more snowfall through the evening hours. Graham stated, “Forecasts are showing an additional one to three inches for our area.”
Power outages have been reported throughout the county today, and crews are working on restoring power to those without. Graham stated of the outages, “Several are out on the eastern side of our county, and up in the Dial area.”
Going into the night power outages and refreezing of roadways are of major concern. The roads cleared some today as temperatures slowly crept above freezing, but without wind or the sun to dry the roadways the water left behind is likely to turn into ice.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff released a statement that he is expecting conditions to worsen as a significant refreeze with black ice will likely occur after dark as temperatures begin to fall into the 20s.
Ratcliff has six trucks dispatched throughout the county putting down salt and gravel mix to treat the roads, and three motor graders have been out working in locations such as Aska Road, Old Hwy. 76, and the Mobile and Madola roads area.
EMA Director Robert Graham is now urging residents, “Please stay off the roads tonight, unless you absolutely need to get out. Try to stay put in the morning as well. After about 10 or 11 a.m. tomorrow, we hope the temperatures will get back up and melt some of this off.”
Fannin County Fire and Rescue Chief and EMA Deputy Director Larry Thomas spoke with FetchYourNews about area roadways and conditions. Thomas confirmed that his department has already responded to several calls today. Many of these calls involved stranded motorists and residents.
While some could not avoid getting out today, many citizens chose to prepare and stay indoors. Fannin County resident Glenda Higdon spoke of her preparation, “So far so good here. We are gathering water, charging phones and phone banks, brought in another load of wood and cooking food up. We have a wood heater, heat pumps and a generator.”
Higdon added with a smile, “We also have a bobcat, tractor, battery chargers, as well! My hubby is a Vietnam Veteran and is not about to get stuck anywhere!”
“We’re both locals so when the blizzard came in 1993, (we) learned a lot about being prepared then (the hard way),” Higdon explained.
Whether prepared or not Winter Storm Benji has left its mark on the north Georgia mountains, and its effects will continue to be experienced in our area for the next couple of days.
Follow FetchYourNews for the latest information about Winter Storm Benji in our area.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) responded to three fires last week, one of those fires resulted in the fatality of the homeowner.
FCFD received a dispatch at 10:21 A.M on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, to a house fire located at 216 Toccoa Forest Lane. The dispatch warned that there was a possible entrapment involved. Responders arrived on the scene 15 minutes later.
Fire/Rescue Chief and EMA Deputy Director Larry Thomas explained that upon arrival the area of the structure where the homeowner was located was “fully engulfed and had already started collapsing.”
Twelve emergency responders with FCFD arrived on the scene, but were unable to get to the trapped occupant. Don Howard, age 65, passed away due to smoke inhalation.
FCFD responded to another house fire last week located at 260 Fain Street. Dispatch was received on Thursday, October 19, 2017, and FCFD was on the scene within seven minutes.
Upon arrival smoke and flames were seen at the backside of the house. FCFD was able to contain and extinguish the fire.
On Sunday, October 24 at 2:14 A.M. FCFD responded to a third call pertaining to a fire. The fire was detected inside Walmart located at 97 Commerce Drive in Blue Ridge. The fire began in a disposal cart for cardboard containers located within the store.
Thomas confirmed that when FCFD arrived on the scene, that Walmart employees had been successful in moving the cart outside of the store. Foul play is suspected at this time and the incident is currently being investigated by the City of Blue Ridge Police Department.
While no foul play is suspected in either of the two home fires, both fires remain under investigation.