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Huge Georgia wildfire ignites spot fires

Firefighters worked Friday to keep wildfires from spreading to miles of drought-stricken forest near the Okefenokee Swamp as most residents evacuated from more than 100 homes were allowed to return.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A few spot fires ignited Saturday afternoon across a highway from a massive wildfire and firefighters struggled to put them out before they could spread in the miles of tinder-dry forest beyond.

Several rural homes near the new fires were being evacuated Saturday evening, Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Eric Mosley said.

Shifting winds and drought-parched forest and swampland have fueled the growth of the vast fire, which has consumed nearly 100 square miles in southeast Georgia since it ignited April 16.

Firefighters were patrolling a 16-mile stretch of U.S. 1, which links Waycross with Jacksonville, Fla., and set controlled burns to prevent the blaze from spreading into acres of drought-stricken forest beyond the road. The highway remained closed.

“We are still in the throes of a very, very difficult effort and we anticipate this fire burning intensely for at least another week — and maybe another month,” said Buzz Weiss, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Weary residents welcomed the shifting wind, which blew the smoke from the towns and into the swampland Saturday morning.

About half the blaze was under control, emergency responders said. A separate smaller blaze ignited near U.S. 301 after a passing train leaked fuel, but Weiss said firefighters have contained all but 10 percent of that fire.

“Right now we just have a bad situation where we have no rain, extremely low humidity and we’re dealing on a day-to-day basis with wind gusts and shifts,” Weiss said. “Those are the real recipes for a fire disaster — and that’s what we’re coping with.”