[UPDATE] Arson Investigation in Okefenokee Swamp Fire

By: Eyewitness News; AP
By: Eyewitness News; AP

[UPDATE] 5-11 3pm -

Local law enforcement agencies are investigating several possible incidences of arson between the Okefenokee NWR and Folkston, GA. Several small fires were reported and suppressed by the Georgia Forestry Commission, Folkston Fire Department, and Honey Prairie Fire Incident Resources. These fires initiated fear among local residents that the Honey Prairie Fire was spotting onto the upland and breaking out of the swamp.

Fire suppression personnel working on the Honey Prairie Fire point out that these new fires are at least nine miles from the nearest active fire front and that the fire behavior we experienced yesterday should not cause spotting more than a quarter mile from the fire. Refuge officials emphasize that rumors generate rapidly during wildfire incidents and that if they have any concerns, individuals have several sources of information including the FWS website that will provide up-to-date information.

UPDATE:
The Honey Prairie Fire expanded to the north and south on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, a mapping flight calculated total acreage burned at 96,408 acres.

The Florida Division of Forestry staff along with support from local timber companies, Georgia Forestry Commission and Refuge resources assigned to the fire had a very busy day along the southern flank near the Florida- Georgia border. Fuel reduction firing operations of forested areas North of Florida Highway 2 were initiated to expand the size of this existing fire break.

Firefighters have completed the installation of waterlines to protect the boardwalk , viewing platforms, and the historic Chesser Island Homestead should fire enter this forested upland island. The Floyds Island cabin has also been protected.

The northeastern portion of the fire is approximately one mile from Chesser Island and 12 miles from Folkston, Georgia. The westernmost flank of the fire is approximately eight miles east of Fargo, Georgia

WEATHER

Temperatures are expected to reach 93 today with a relative humidity of 30%. By late morning winds will be out of the northwest, shifting from the north later in the day. Tonight, winds will be from the southeast at 4 to 7 mph. The forecast for tomorrow calls for south winds at 4 to 6 mph, with a 20% chance of thunderstorms through the mid and late afternoon.

SMOKE FORECAST

St. George and regions beyond will be in the path of the smoke plume with the northwest wind. Smoke models show significant smoke concentrations 35 to 50 miles downwind. Individuals sensitive to smoke should take appropriate measures to avoid being outside when smoke is in their area. Motorists should be aware of the possibility of dense smoke on all roads near the southern part of the swamp.

PERSONNEL:

There are about 170 personnel working on the fire who represent 3 Federal, 7 State and 3 private companies.

CLOSURES:

Stephen Foster State Park remains closed.

As a precaution, all canoe camping, day use boating, and boat tours from the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area at the refuge’s east entrance, are temporarily suspended. Also, the Swamp Island Drive is closed until the threat of fire is over. Visit http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee for the latest fire information. Fire photos and videos are posted on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page.

PUBLIC MEETINGS

There will be a public meeting Friday, May 13 at 7:00 pm in Folkston to answer questions and discuss current and future fire suppression operations. The meeting will be in the auditorium of the Courthouse Annex, 68 Kingsland Drive. Meetings were conducted earlier this week in St. George and Fargo, Georgia.

_____________________

[UPDATE] FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- 5-10 - 2pm -

A fire burning through the Okefenokee Swamp
has now scorched nearly 72,000 acres, making the air smell smoky
nearly 200 miles to the north.

The Augusta Chronicle reported that people in the Augusta area
have called emergency management officials about the smoky smell.

Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pam Tucker said
her office has received several calls about the smoke smell in
Richmond and Columbia counties.

Tucker attributed the smell of smoke to the swamp fire and said
the wind appeared to be blowing the smoke toward the Augusta area
on Tuesday.

The blaze has reached the swamp's eastern edge and was less than
1.5 miles from Florida.

The last major fire in the swamp was in 2007, when more than
500,000 acres burned in the Okefenokee refuge and surrounding
communities.

___________________________

[UPDATE] Monday morning 5-9-2011

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports that as of Monday morning, May 9,2011, the "Honey Prairie Wildfire" in the Okefenokee Swamp had expanded to 61,200 acres, and is still growing.

*NOTE* We are NOT expecting the smoke from that fire to affect the WCTV viewing area, as the forecast winds this week should keep most, if not all of the smoke well to our east.

================
[UPDATE] FOLKSTON, Ga. -- (AP) 5-9-2011

Authorities say a fire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge along the Georgia-Florida border has nearly tripled since Friday.

The fire is consuming 44,000 acres after winds shifted Saturday from the northwest to the southwest. Authorities say the blaze is approaching the eastern refuge boundary southwest of Folkston and the western edge near Fargo.

That's still a small fraction of the swamp's 438,000 acres, where periodic fire is needed to keep the swamp from becoming overgrown and converting to uplands.
All boating has been suspended at the Suwannee Canal Recreation
Area as a precaution. And Stephen C. Foster State Park has closed
until the fire is under control.

Authorities are urging all motorists traveling through the area to use caution because of possible smoke in the roadway.

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Okefenokee Swamp fire now at 16,200 acres
(as of Friday morning)

Wind shift and light rain are slowing growth of Honey Prairie Fire, official said.

(**NOTE FROM MIKE MCCALL** - As of Friday afternoon, the forecast winds for the next several days should keep the smoke AWAY from the WCTV viewing area at least through the middle of next week.)

By Associated Press

The Honey Prairie Fire has now burned 16,200 acres in the Okefenokee Swamp but is being slowed by shifting winds and light rain showers, said Arthur Webster, chief ranger of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

A helicopter surveillance flight over the fire this morning passed through light rain, but the showers won't be nearly enough to put out the fire that officials believe a lightning strike started just over a week ago, he said.

"It's kind of slowed down,'' and winds from the southwest at six to 10 mph are pushing the fire back over some area that has already burned in the remote southwestern corner of the swamp, Webster said.

"That's a great direction right now for the wind,'' as it pushes the fire deeper into the swamp and away from the boundary of the refuge, he said.

The eastern flank of the fire is now six to eight miles long, Webster said.


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