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Rain puts damper on southeast wildfires

/ Source: The Associated Press

Tropical Storm Barry and its remnants gave a much-needed soaking to thousands of acres of burning swamp and timberland in northern Florida and southeastern Georgia.

The remains of the storm rode up the East Coast Sunday with gusty winds and rain falling as far north as Upstate New York, according to Weather Underground, a commercial weather service.

Wind gusts along the coast were measured at 44 mph on Cape Fear in southern North Carolina and heavy rain was noted throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coasts, Weather Underground reported.

By Sunday afternoon, Mount Vernon, Ga., received 8 inches of rain from the storm, West Palm Beach, Fla., had 7 inches and Hardeeville, S.C., saw more than 6 inches, according to the National Hurricane Center. Most areas across the Southeast received smaller amounts.

Barry, which weakened to a depression Saturday morning, was a tremendous help to a thirsty Southeast. But residents living near Georgia’s fires should not be complacent, said Larry Morris with the joint information center in Waycross.

“It’s still a live fire. Contained does not mean controlled, and it does not mean extinguished,” Morris said.

Morris estimates that the fire, which crews have battled for more than a month, is now about 85 percent contained.

The rain was not enough to put out the blazes, but officials said the moist conditions allowed firefighters to focus on hot spots spared by the rain and on areas that are already beginning to dry out and could potentially catch fire again.

Two large fires have charred more than 600,000 acres, or roughly 937 square miles, of swamp and timberland since a tree fell on a power line south of Waycross on April 16 and then a lightning strike inside the Okefenokee Swamp on May 5 ignited the second blaze.

The fires destroyed about 30 homes and prompted several evacuations, which had all been lifted by Sunday.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the part of the Osceola National Forest north of Interstate 10 remained closed Sunday.