Georgia wildfire stalls for days after rain, now 60 percent contained

Published: May. 16, 2017 at 5:55 PM EDT
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By: Associated Press

May 19, 2017

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- A vast wildfire near the Georgia-Florida state line has sputtered and stalled for days, giving firefighters their best chance yet to stop the flames from advancing near the southern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

The multi-agency team fighting the fire said Friday the total burned area stands at 238 square miles -- a figure that has barely budged since Sunday. That's after 2.5 inches of rainfall hit the fire last weekend, slowing its burn rate to a crawl.

Susan Heisey is supervisory ranger of the Okefenokee National Wildlife refuge. She said Friday that the fire is now considered 60-percent contained after firefighters extinguished smoldering hot spots along the blaze's perimeter, fortifying containment lines to keep the fire from spreading into nearby communities.

By: Jake Stofan; Capitol News Service

May 16, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – As of Tuesday, there are 134 actively burning wildfires in the state. The fires have scorched 170,000 acres of land since the beginning of the year, and firefighters are hoping the rapidly approaching rainy season will bring relief.

Florida’s peninsula has received less than half of its annual average rainfall this year.

The dry spell has manifested itself in the massive, billowing West Mims fire. The fire has consumed more than 150,000 acres since it began in early April.

Embattled firefighters are hoping the state’s rainy season, which usually begins in late May, will offer relief.

Florida Forrest Service Director Jim Karels says, "The national interagency of fire standards shows elevated fire conditions for us all the way to August which is not the norm in Florida.”

If rains don’t materialize, or are less than the normal seasonal rainfall of 18 to 20 inches, the fire danger could increase.

“What you need really is widespread areas where you get multiple inches of rain,” says Parks Camp with the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service says even if the rainy season does bring showers, the worst could still be yet to come.

Camp says, “Problems we have with the rainy season is with the thunderstorms, as you get lightening.”

That prospect has firefighters worried.

“A thunderstorm is isolated and the winds that it blows and where it's not raining, it's causing severe fire conditions,” says Karels.

For any major relief, the National Weather Service says it will take multiple heavy sustained rains across the state.

“A weak tropical storm or tropical depression or something like that, that produces a lot of rain across the area that can change things tremendously. It can help,” says Camp.

The National Weather Service will be releasing its 2017 hurricane forecast in the next few weeks, but the number is only an estimate of how many storms will form, and not how many will actually make landfall.

Preliminary predictions from The Weather Company suggest 2017 will be a nearly average year with an estimated 12 named storms.