FOLKSTON - A vast wildfire burning since April in the Okefenokee Swamp smoldered just shy of 300,000 acres Monday after weekend rains slowed its growth, and authorities said they expect little relief from a tropical storm churning off the Atlantic coast.
Meteorologists working with firefighters battling the swamp blaze are predicting that Tropical Storm Bret could actually pull moisture away from the Okefenokee, making conditions more favorable for the fire to keep growing, said Mark Wurdeman, a spokesman for the joint federal-state fire team. Forecasts showed the storm staying out to sea and bypassing Georgia's 100-mile coast on Tuesday.
"They're expecting the tropical storm's influence will be drawing drier air off the continent that will come down in this direction," Wurdeman said. "We're not expecting to get any increased moisture here."
Firefighters estimated the Honey Prairie fire on Monday had burned a total of 299,909 acres - or nearly 469 square miles. A lightning strike sparked it April 28, and firefighters have contained most of the blaze inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near the Georgia-Florida state line.
Authorities say only several days of sustained, soaking rain can extinguish the wildfire. Wurdeman said 2 ½ to 4 inches of rain fell across much of the fire Friday and Saturday.
"It's sleeping a little bit, but later in the week it could wake back up," he said. "This thing is not out. It's a big fire."