Homes evacuated in Ware County
WAYCROSS (AP) — A wildfire burning out of control in southeast Georgia a few miles west of Waycross has raced across nearly 8 square miles in less than a day, forcing some rural residents to evacuate.
Jonathan Daniel, emergency management director for Ware County, said Thursday about 75 homes were evacuated overnight. He says residents of about 25 homes have been unable to return because the flames are still too close.
Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Eric Mosley says firefighters worked through the night after the fire ignited Wednesday, but they've been unable to contain any part of the blaze. He says the fire is burning mostly in timberland about 5 miles west of Waycross.
Drought has extended Georgia's wildfire season. Officials say more than 530 fires have started statewide since June 1.
SAVANNAH — Southeast Georgians kept a wary eye on wildfires spreading throughout the region Wednesday after different fires in neighboring counties destroyed a family's mobile home, burned a barn and prompted a short-lived evacuation of about 50 homes east of the Okefenokee Swamp.
It's been more than six weeks since lightning ignited a blaze in the swamp that's burned more than 300 square miles. But residents in surrounding communities hadn't been directly threatened by that fire, or others burning near the Okefenokee's perimeter, until this week.
"It's close enough to make everybody pretty nervous," said John Meyer, emergency management director for Charlton County. "We're doing a lot of praying, that's for sure."
Sheriff's deputies had ordered about 50 homes in northern Charlton County to evacuate Tuesday night as flames from the 12-square-mile Race Pond fire at the Okefenokee's northeastern edge flared up and spread over an additional 2,000 acres, or 3 square miles. Meyer said all residents were allowed to return Wednesday but an emergency shelter would remain open in case they had to leave again.
A fire that broke out in neighboring Camden County spread over a square mile and destroyed two mobile homes late Tuesday. Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Eric Mosley said only one of the homes had people living in it, and they got out safely ahead of the fire.
As crews worked to contain that blaze, a new fire kindled Wednesday north of the swamp in Ware County. Mosley said that wildfire burned down a barn as it quickly spread across about 300 acres — less than half a square mile — located about 5 miles west of Waycross. A few rural homes were nearby, he said, but were not imminently threatened.
"It's not heavily populated," Mosley said. "It's mostly a lot of timberland out there."
He said firefighters with bulldozers and hoses hoped to contain the Ware County fire overnight by taking advantage of lighter winds and higher humidity.
Drought conditions have left southeast Georgia's forests and swamps dry as tinder, making for an unusually high 8,500 fires statewide in the past year. Officials say scattered thunderstorms forecast through the week are largely to blame for sparking new fires and fanning existing ones.
"These afternoon thundershowers are coming in and not creating much rain but quite a bit of wind and lightning, so they've been working against us," Mosley said. "We don't see any relief in sight for the near future."
The largest fires have burned more than 300 square miles since late April inside the vast Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge at the Georgia-Florida line. Fire inside the Okefenokee is actually beneficial because it keeps the swamp from becoming overgrown.
But on Tuesday the massive Honey Prairie fire, started by lightning April 30, and the smaller Paxton Road fire, burning to the north for about a week, merged along the swamp's eastern boundary into a single blaze. The vast fire also escaped containment lines at the swamp's edge and ignited another 2,000 acres.
Alexis Brooks, a spokeswoman for the federal crew fighting the fire in the swamp, said firefighters were using bulldozers to try to contain the portion of the fire beyond the swamp's boundary. Those flames were about 10 miles southwest of Folkston, the nearest city, but only about a mile from a small number of homes just outside the swamp, Brooks said.
"That area is definitely a priority for us and we're working on moving as many resources into that area as we possibly can," Brooks said.