Timber industry faces severe loss as wildfire burns

Published: May. 17, 2017 at 7:46 PM EDT
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By: Noelani Mathews

May 17, 2017

ST. GEORGE, GA (WCTV) – The West Mims fire has scorched more than 150,000 acres of land since it began in early April, and only about a quarter of it has been contained.

Fire officials say nearly 32,000 of those acres are private property.

Some of that property belongs to the Toledo Manufacturing Company, a long-standing member of the timber industry in St. George, Georgia.

"Every time I drive through it, I get sick,” says President Joe Hopkins.

More than 30 acres of burned pine trees have been cleared from his lot, and Hopkins says there are nearly 1,300 acres to go.

The burned timber will sell for a fraction of the original cost, if it sells at all.

Hopkins says his business is facing huge damages.

"We don't get to write any of this loss off, the way the IRS code is. According to the IRS, we haven't lost anything."

Cutting down burned trees will also reduce the amount of local jobs, as there are less acres to harvest.

"It's difficult to deal with. We know we suffered a lot of economic loss. It totally distorts your management plan," says Hopkins.

The wildfire has impacted the entire South Georgia timber industry, and timber companies are rushing to remove the weakened trees.

The Southern Pine Beetle is known to attack stressed timber and can cause widespread damage. St. George had a beetle outbreak just last year.

Recent rain has allowed timber companies get a jump start on clearing out weakened trees, and fire crews have been helping to pitch in.

Crews are reinforcing fire lines and creating new lines between trees in the hopes of preventing more damage.

But with more dry weather in the forecast, the danger is not over.

"You just have to tighten up and wait until things get better and hope it doesn't continue to happen. I'm at the point now where I just hope this is all I'm going to have. As dry as it is, a lightning strike could burn another thousand acres easily," says Hopkins.