Hundreds of Florida Wildfire Evacuees Still Waiting to Go Home

May 16, 2007

Higher winds were expected to fan the flames of the large fire burning in southeast Georgia and Florida on Monday.

The wildfire that raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into Florida was started by lightning more than a week ago. By Sunday night, it had burned 102,500 acres in Florida and was 30 percent contained. Georgia reported 41 wildfires in the state covering 267,136 acres.

Georgia officials on Sunday were also working a new area of flames in the northern part of the state. The fire covered approximately 200 acres in Gilmer County and Murray County and was about 50 percent contained, according to Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Devon Dartnell. It was believed to have been caused by lightning on May 12, Dartnell said.

Winds on Monday in the area of the fires in Florida were expected to be 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph. That was up from winds of 6-8 mph, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Nina Barrow.

Scattered rain showers hit the area of the fire on Sunday, but the extent of the rain’s effect was not clear. Any rain, however, would have increased humidity and slowed the spread of the fire, Barrow said.

Fires and the smoke from them plagued area residents all weekend. Authorities closed approximately 75 miles of Interstate Highways 75 and 10 on May 12 and were only able to reopen stretches periodically the next day. The uncertainty of the closures had officials urging people to remain off roadways.

Meanwhile, about 570 residents were not being allowed to return to 150 homes evacuated between I-10 and the Florida-Georgia state line.

Officials were also fighting a series of other, smaller fires throughout the state.

The fire burning in southeast Georgia and Florida started May 5 in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It took just six days to grow larger than another wildfire that has burned nearly 121,000 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks. The smaller fire was started by a tree falling on a power line.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Georgia’s Steven C. Foster State Park inside it remained closed.

Haze from the fires has traveled as far south as the Miami area, about 340 miles away.

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