FOLKSTON — Wildfires are burning across the nation but none is larger than the one in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
The fire, sparked by a lightning strike April 6, has grown to more than 100,000 acres.
Susan Granbery, a Georgia Forestry Commission spokeswoman, said many fire crews were assigned Monday to the east side of the refuge where 15 mph winds with gusts up to 25 mph were expected to push the flames close to the Swamp Edge Break.
High, erratic winds created the potential for “significant fire growth,” according to the forecast.
There are more than 300,000 acres of wilderness unburned in the swamp and no way to stop the flames until they approach the upland boundary of the 438,000-acre wildlife refuge.
Granbery said standing water and wet areas are slowing flames from advancing in some areas, but there are many dry spots that could easily burn.
“They do expect it to potentially grow to the north,” she said.
There are 480 firefighters assigned to the fire, with many new ones coming in from across the nation for a 12-day tour of duty. Some firefighters, such as Granbery, have signed on for a third week.
Equipment resources include six helicopters, 53 wildland fire engines, 34 tractor plows and six dozers.
Granbery praised the patience and support from residents living near the fire.
“Everybody here has shown us such Southern hospitality,” she said.
It’s not the first wildfire residents living in the region have dealt with. Wildfires, usually sparked by lightning, burn in the swamp about once every five years.
The forecast called for a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Monday, but Granbery said it will take more than an afternoon rain event to extinguish the fire. It’s possible the fire could burn in the swamp until November, she said.
“They do need a major rain event to put out the fire,” she said. “We need a tropical storm type event.”
Closures within the refuge include Wilderness Canoe Trail overnight stops, Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, Stephen C. Foster State Park, Suwannee River Sill, and the Pocket. Georgia Highway 177 is closed north of the intersection with Georgia Highway 94, the highway leading to Stephen C. Foster State Park.