UPDATE: South Georgia wildfire picks up steam

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UPDATE: South Georgia wildfire picks up steam

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ga. 94 near St. George. PHOTO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A wildfire burning along the Georgia-Florida border picked up steam Wednesday, fueled by hot, dry temperatures and shifting winds.

“It started to pick up today,” said Tom Stokesberry, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. “Our lines are going to be tested. Mother Nature is a powerful thing.”

Some 725 firefighters are battling the blaze near the Okefenokee swamp. It is just 12 percent contained and could burn for months. 

Tom Stokesberry, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the fire along the Florida-Georgia border is gaining strength. CRAIG SCHNEIDER/cschneider@ajc.com

Although officials have ordered an evacuation for the southern half of Charlton County, most people appeared to be staying put. 

Travis Thompson said he has no intention of leaving his home or even closing his little restaurant that stands in the evacuation area, called the Woofy Wagon. 

What would it take for him to pack up and leave his home?

“Them telling me it’s going to burn down,” he said. “I’ll send my wife and kids away. But I’ll stay till the bitter end.”

Thompson was born and raised in this place, which he said is still dominated by timberlands.

“It’s a town where everybody knows your business, and everybody looks out for everybody,” he said.

His daughter, Destiny, who is 15, seemed a little more nervous.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I think God has it in his hands. He’ll provide for us.”

Sky a hazy gray

The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air Wednesday.

This sleepy, one traffic light town has been transformed by the blaze that continues to grow. It’s fiery edge stands only about four miles away. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles crisscross the streets. News crews have stationed themselves in the center of town.

Some streets have been blocked by official vehicles, their blue lights going all day long.

The sky is a hazy gray, and the smoke settles in the lungs and stings the eyes. Some people walked around with water bottles in hand. People say even the gnats, which are pretty bad this time of year, seem worse.

Dubbed the West Mims Fire, the blaze has burned 225 miles since it began April 6. It was ignited by a lightning strike. 

No homes have been burned yet and no injuries have been reported. 

Public information officers are holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Baker County High School in Glen St. Mary to provide residents information and answer questions. 

Rainfall fails to stop wildfire near Georgia-Florida line and the wildfire may not be extinguished until November, official says.

‘It’s so unpredictable’

On Tuesday, the fire spread 3,500 acres, though a heavy air mass helped prevent the flames from spreading even further. That’s compared to Saturday when it grew by 11,000 acres, officials said.

It's unclear how far the fire has spread today. 

On Wednesday, the wind picked up, gusting at 15 mph, and temperatures that crested 90 degrees kept the ground around the swamp dry and very combustible.

The fire has already spread well beyond the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, said refuge manager Michael Lusk. He said about 40 percent of the 143,893 scorched acres stand outside the refuge.

He said one bad day could bring the fire to people’s homes.

“It’s so unpredictable,” he said.

Everywhere, everybody is talking about the fire.

One person’s comment has stuck in Lusk’s head: The devil went down to Georgia and he sat down in the Okefenokee swamp.

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