Lewis Levine  /  AP
Firefighters on Wednesday battle one of the two wildfires near Waycross, Ga.
updated 4/20/2007 11:28:20 PM ET 2007-04-21T03:28:20

Gusting winds fueled the spread of wildfires Friday in southeast Georgia, where about 58 square miles of forest were burning and flames swept closer to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The southward-blowing wind kept the largest wildfire, which covered about 35,000 acres Friday, from spreading in the direction of Waycross, a city of 15,300 people just northeast of the massive blaze, said Eric Mosley, a state forestry commission spokesman.

“We think tomorrow the wind may shift, reverse course and send the fire back toward Waycross,” Mosley said.

He said the fire was about 35 percent contained.

By Friday afternoon, the large fire had also spread to within about a mile from the refuge, one of the nation’s best-preserved wetland areas.

Fire officials had to evacuate 10 additional homes Friday that were threatened by the spreading fire. Mosley said he did not know how many people lived in those homes. The fire, which started Monday when a tree fell on a power line, has destroyed 18 homes.

About 1,000 people were forced to evacuate earlier this week, and 5,000 more had been urged to evacuate their homes voluntarily Thursday because of potential health hazards from heavy smoke blowing into Waycross.

A smaller fire, which burned a little over 3 square miles near the town of Fargo in southeast Georgia, had been about 80 percent contained Friday, said Okefenokee refuge spokesman John Calabrese. Firefighting crews dumped water from helicopters on Friday to put out hot spots.

No deaths were reported, but several firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation or injuries. The cause of the smaller fire was still unknown.

Schools remained closed Friday for a fourth day in Ware County to avoid running school buses on smoke-clouded roads.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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