FOLKSTON, Ga. | Ground crews with plows and bulldozers worked Wednesday to box in a vast wildfire threatening small communities at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia.
Firefighters have battled to keep the blaze away from rural homes near the Georgia-Florida state line since winds last weekend pushed flames outside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where lightning sparked the fire April 6. The towns of St. George and Moniac on the swamp’s southeastern edge remained under mandatory evacuations for a fourth day Wednesday with the woods burning just a few miles away.
Planes and helicopters were dropping water and chemical fire retardant on the flames Wednesday as ground crews fortified fire breaks plowed alongside roads to the south and east of the advancing fire, said Susan Heisey, a spokeswoman for the multi-agency fire command team. She said milder than expected fire growth Tuesday gave firefighters extra time to try to box in the fire.
“Hopefully it will help tremendously,” said Heisey, chief ranger for the Okefenokee refuge. “But we still are in drought conditions with extreme heat and really low humidity. The potential is really high today for fire growth.”
By Wednesday morning the fire had charred more than 220 square miles, mostly on public land inside the refuge. Fire officials said in a news release they consider the blaze 12 percent contained. They have estimated the fire could burn into November.
Heisey said no homes had burned as of Wednesday morning and no injuries had been reported from the fire. While officials in surrounding Charlton County have urged residents nearest the fire to leave, many have stayed in hopes of protecting their homes.
Rejoining the fight Wednesday was a modified DC-10 jet liner capable of dumping 11,600 gallons of retardant chemicals — roughly four times the amount of any other firefighting plane. Taking off from Chattanooga, Tennessee, the giant air tanker made its first drop Tuesday, but a planned second run was scrapped because of heavy smoke.