Wind gusts fanned 100-foot flames into treetops Monday as firefighters continued to battle a wildfire that has burned 125 square miles of southeast Georgia forest and swampland in the past two weeks.
The fire has burned 80,000 acres in the Okefenokee Swamp and surrounding forest in Ware County, making it the largest wildfire in Georgia history.
Officials said the blaze started April 16 when a tree fell on a power line. It has spread rapidly through forest parched by drought, destroying 22 homes in the area.
More than 830 firefighters from throughout Georgia and neighboring states had the fire 64 percent contained Monday morning, said Susan Reisch, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
"We expect the fire will continue to burn intensely this week," Reisch said. "Crews will be working on extinguishing hot spots through the month, or until the next heavy rain at the earliest."
No rain was forecast for next several days in Ware County, while low humidity and sustained winds of 10 mph threatened to help spread the fire Monday.
The Forestry Commission had reduced the total acreage burned by about 2,000 acres Monday after new aerial maps gave officials a more accurate assessment of the fire, Reisch said.
A 16-mile section of U.S. 1, which connects Waycross with Jacksonville, Fla., remained closed Monday as firefighters widened fire breaks to keep the fire from crossing the highway into miles on tinder-dry forest to the north.
A few families remained evacuated Monday from their homes a short distance from U.S. 1 near the northern edge of the swamp, where the fire has been most active for the past week.
Schools in Ware County, which were closed most of last week, opened an hour later than usual Monday, while schools in neighboring Charlton County were closed, said Buzz Weiss, a spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Firefighters also worked to contain two smaller wildfires that broke out Sunday in neighboring Charlton and Brantley counties. Weiss said at least nine families were evacuated from Charlton County.
About 1,300 acres had burned in Brantley County just east of Ware County, and the fire there was about 50 percent contained, Reisch said. She did not know the acreage of the fire in Charlton County.
Meanwhile, a fire that broke out Saturday in an Atkinson County peat bog about 30 miles west of Waycross had burned about 3,500 acres, Reisch said Monday.