Rainfall no match for drought in swamp, West Mims Fire picks back up

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By: Noelani Mathews
May 30, 2017

ST. GEORGE, Ga. (WCTV) -- The West Mims Fire is picking up speed again, after the recent rain in South Georgia.

Fire officials say it's helped crews contain 65% of the fire.

However, they also say it's still no match for the drought conditions in the swamp.

The fire has burned more than 150,000 acres across the Florida-Georgia line, after lightning started the fire in early April.

Crews are now battling reappearing hot spots.

They say the hottest area of the fire is still south of the swamp, near St. George, Georgia.


By: Associated Press
May 2, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- Officials say a huge fire in the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida line was not quenched by rainfall from a recent storm.

The wildfire that has burned more than 150 square miles on public lands in the Okefenokee National Wildlife refuge got an estimated 0.1 inches of rain Monday night from a line of thunderstorms crossing southeast Georgia.

Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman Susan Granbery said Tuesday at least 3 inches of rain in a single, sustained burst is needed to put out the blaze.

More than 460 firefighters and support personnel are working to contain the fire inside the Okefenokee refuge. That number could increase as a new multi-agency team trained to tackle more complex fires takes command later in the week.


By: Associated Press
April 25, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- Officials say a wildfire on public lands near the Georgia-Florida state line has burned more than 90 square miles as winds spread the flames through dry areas of the Okefenokee Swamp.

A news release by the firefighting command team said the overall area of the blaze grew more than 22 percent between Monday and Tuesday. So far, nearly all of the burned acreage has been confined to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia and the neighboring Osceola National Forest and John M. Bethea State Forest in Florida.

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that winds were pushing smoke and falling ash into communities a few miles east of the Okefenokee refuge including Folkston, Georgia, and Hilliard, Florida.

A lightning strike started the fire April 6.


By: Associated Press
April 24, 2017

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Officials say a wildfire that has scorched 76 square miles near the Georgia-Florida state line may keep burning for the next six months.

The West Mims Fire was sparked by lightning on April 6 inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The fire grew by 76 percent over the weekend as winds pushed flames deeper into areas of the swamp parched by drought.

Susan Granbery of the Georgia Forestry Commission said Monday there was no immediate threat to communities outside the vast refuge.

More than 430 firefighters and support personnel are working to contain the fire. Granbery said only a big rainstorm will be able to extinguish the blaze, and forecasters predict that may not happen until November.

A 2011 wildfire inside the refuge burned for a full year.


By: Associated Press
April 21, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- A Georgia state park inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is being closed to visitors as a wildfire burning in the swamp poses a growing threat.

Leland Bass of the Georgia Forestry Commission said Stephen C. Foster State Park was closed to new visitors Friday, while campers already in the park were being allowed to stay until Saturday morning.

The park's closure comes as a wildfire on public lands near the Georgia-Florida state line is expected to spread deeper into the refuge over the weekend. The West Mims Fire has burned roughly 40 square miles (104 sq. kilometers) since it was sparked by lightning April 6.

Bass said the fire posed no immediate threat to the park or visitors, but authorities decided to close it as a safety precaution.

For the latest information on the West Mims Fire, click here.


By: Associated Press
April 20, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- Firefighters are getting ready for a wildfire that's burned 35 square miles of public land near the Georgia-Florida state line to spread northward in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Currently, the fire is roughly a third of the size of Tallahassee's city limits

Leland Bass of the Georgia Forestry Commission said Thursday forecasters expect winds in the coming days to push the fire deeper into the refuge, where lightning sparked the blaze April 6.

Firefighters have been fortifying fire breaks along the swamp edge in an effort to keep flames from spreading to nearby communities.

Crews are also working to protect structures inside the refuge. Bass said hoses and sprinklers have been set up around cabins in Stephen C. Foster State Park. And a 1927 home built by settlers on Chesser Island inside the swamp is being wrapped in fire-retardant material.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 19, 2017

FARGO, Ga. (WCTV) -- The West Mims Fire continues to grow, burning hundreds more acres of the Okefenokee swamp.

It has now charred close to 22,000 acres along the Florida-Georgia line, and is still only 3 percent contained.

330 personnel are currently assigned to helping battle the blaze.

Counties in the impacted area are taking more action. Officials are set to host community meetings in Charlton County this weekend, and Baker County is also issuing a burn ban.

Click here for an interactive map of the fire and updated information about current conditions.


By: Noelani Mathews
April 18, 2017

FARGO, Ga. (WCTV) -- Crews continue battling a wildfire that straddles the Florida-Georgia line, and residents are keeping a watchful eye on the situation as well.

The Clinch County government is telling residents in the area to be prepared to evacuate.

The West Mims Fire has now spread to over 20,000 acres in the Okefenokee swamp. So far, the blaze is only 3 percent contained.

Since the first West Mims Fire community meeting on Monday night, it seems everybody now feels like they're on the same page.

Today, crews from across the country are getting back to work, with the help of local residents, landowners, and corporations.

Officials say they've played a huge effort in suppressing the fire.

Local timber companies say it may be a small town, but the people of Fargo have a huge heart-- lending a hand even when their hometown is threatened by wildfire.

Chad Nimmer says, "You won't see anger in this situation. The people of Fargo are always passionate and vigilant about what they care about, where they live, and their way of life here."

Nimmer is with Pierce Timber Company, and a Georgia state representative.

He says they've been here since the fire started.

A lot of this private and corporate land is timber-- a $32 billion industry in Georgia.

Nimmer says it also generates a lot of local revenue in these rural counties. It's a lifeline for the community, and now at risk, due to the West Mims Fire.

The Incident Management Team says their goal is to keep it off this land.

Click here for an interactive map of the fire and updated information about current conditions.


By: Noelani Mathews
April 17, 2017

FARGO, Ga. (WCTV) -- The West Mims Fire has scorched more than 20,000 acres... and counting. As of Monday afternoon, the blaze was only 3 percent contained. The fire was started by lightning nearly two weeks ago.

Since then, the Type 2 Incident Management Team, along with the Georgia Forestry Commission, has set up shop in Fargo. They say over 200 personnel are here to help from multiple federal and state agencies across the country.

They say the size of the fire is determined by the weather, and they're preparing for the unpredictable.

Crews are working hard and hoping for the best.

Leland Bass of the Incident Management Team says, "We're out here fighting fire in it in 85 degree days. The dust is really thick. The smoke is really thick. We're 100 percent dedicated to working and keeping these people safe."

The fire has now traveled onto private property.

Helicopters and dozens of pieces of heavy machinery are being brought in, removing vegetation and prepping soil to keep the fire out.

For now, they say they're creating a barrier around the entire perimeter, forcing the fire back, and away from more possible damage.

Officials say they're still several weeks-- maybe even months-- away from getting everything controlled. They tell us they're aiming for the month of June.

Click here for an interactive map of the fire and updated information about current conditions.

Residents and landowners from surrounding counties gathered at the Fargo School auditorium Monday evening for a community meeting.

It's where the Incident Management Team answered questions about the West Mims Fire and gave the latest update on their progress.

The Georgia Forestry Commission and Florida Forest Service gave several presentations.

They tackled every topic of the fire's current state, and even bigger points, like the smoke and threat of fire damage.

"It's very important to get the word out as early as possible and as soon as possible," says Buck Kline, Incident Commander.

The team says as soon as their command center set up shop, the community meeting was planned right away.

It's to keep everyone on the same page, and keep everyone informed about what's happening and what's to come.

After several officials finished their presentations, the floor opened for questioning and the room fell silent.

"We want to be upfront. We want to tell them to be prepared. We want to tell them what's going on, so they can be prepared and know we're doing everything we can to protect their lives and property," says Kline.

The fire has now reached private property, but there's still no current threat for evacuation.

Officials say that's only if the fire reaches certain trigger points put in place to notify residents with enough time to leave.

At this time, they say the smoke isn't enough to be a health hazard.

It's not expected to leave the area all summer.

Georgia State Route 94 is now back open, after being closed last week due to the smoke.

Officials say there are still nightly closures from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

They say it's the best way to keep everyone safe while the smoke is heaviest during those times.


Update: April 17, 2017

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- South Georgia residents on the western edge of the Okefenokee Swamp are being warned to prepare for potential evacuations as a wildfire that has burned 31 square miles near the Georgia-Florida line keeps growing.

Sparked by lightning April 6 in the Okefenokee National Wildlife refuge, the fire more than doubled in size over the weekend on nearby public land as strong winds fanned the blaze. It covered 20,162 acres (80 square km) Monday.

Clinch County emergency management director Will Joyce said some residents of Fargo, a city of about 320 people, were urged over the weekend to pack bags just in case evacuations are ordered.

Leland Bass of the Georgia Forestry Commission said the fire Monday was burning roughly 7 miles outside of Fargo.

Click here for an interactive map of the fire and updated information about current conditions.


By: Associated Press
April 13, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) -- Federal officials are banning campfires and charcoal grilling in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where a wildfire has burned 13 square miles near the Georgia-Florida line.

Refuge supervisory ranger Susan Heisey said Thursday that the ban comes before a busy holiday weekend amid dry conditions and "we don't want any new fires."

The fire was estimated Thursday to have burned 8,400 acres within the refuge and in neighboring Osceola National Forest and John M. Bethea State Forest in Florida. Officials say lightning sparked the blaze a week ago.

Florida state Highway 2 south of the refuge partially reopened Thursday after being closed three days because of smoke. The Florida Highway Patrol still planned to close the route between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge says the fire is zero percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.


By: Noelani Mathews
April 12, 2017

FARGO, Ga. (WCTV) -- A large wildfire is spreading across South Georgia and North Florida.

Over 100 personnel from the Georgia Forestry Commission, Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners, Florida Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Forest Service are working to suppress the wildfire.

They say it's called the West Mims Fire, and they believe lightning sparked the fire last Friday.

By Wednesday, a total of 8,400 acres has burned in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Agencies say with such a big fire, it's difficult to contain and slow the spread.

"You may not have enough water to put it out, but you can cool it down. The only way we would have enough water to put this fire out would be a rain with a name, if you get what I'm saying," says Doc Bloodworth, with Florida Forest Service.

Bloodworth says without a large rain storm, they're dropping loads of fire retardant,

They've already dropped around 30 loads, holding around 4,000 gallons each.

Agencies are also using several different strategic firing operations to the perimeter of the burned area.

Georgia State Route 94 in Fargo is blocked all the way across the Georgia-Florida line due to smoke.

They say zero percent of the fire is contained, and it will take several weeks to gain control.

For now, several agencies and landowners are working together to keep danger and damage at bay.

As of Wednesday, the fire has not impacted any private structures or property.