Wildfires Burn More than 330,000 Acres in Georgia, Florida

May 14, 2007

Officials closed a 35-mile stretch of Interstate 75 from the Georgia-Florida state line to Lake City, Fla., as well as a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 10, from U.S. 90 to U.S. 129, as a gigantic wildfire approached them over the weekend.

“It’s smoke and fog right now, but the fire is not far,” said Bill Hamilton with the joint fire information center. He said he expected the road closure to be in effect for at least several hours.

Emergency management officials said several accidents have occurred on the two highways and that area roads are at “near zero visibility.” A multi-car accident occurred on the interchange between the two highways that is northwest of Lake City, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman said. It was unclear if there were any injuries.

Firefighters expected some help from “a calmer day” with winds only around 5-10 mph on April 12 as they battled two giant wildfires in southeast Georgia and northern Florida that have already burned a total of more than 330,000 acres.

A wildfire that has raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into northern Florida has charred more than 212,000 acres – or nearly 300 square miles – since a lightning strike ignited it a week ago according to officials.

The fire started April 5 in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It took just six days to grow larger than a wildfire that has burned nearly 124,000 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks, caused by a tree falling on a power line.

The blaze has burned more than 111,000 acres in Georgia’s Ware and Charlton counties and 101,000 acres in Florida’s Baker and Columbia counties and the Osceola National Forest.

Haze from the fires traveled more than 300 miles to the Miami area. Officials said the fire has burned to within about six miles north of Interstate 10, where heavy smoke blanketed the area and visibility on the highway was reduced to about a quarter of mile.

In Georgia, the fire posed a potential threat to the tiny city of Fargo, where 380 people live about eight miles west of the Okefenokee Swamp. Occupants of about 15 homes in a Fargo subdivision were evacuated and residents in a few other communities were asked to be ready to leave.

In north Florida, about 600 families were still unable to return home as of the morning of April 12, said Jim Harrell of the Florida Division of Forestry.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Steven C. Foster State Park remained closed.

Associated Press writer Jim Ellis contributed to this report from Tampa, Fla.

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