A wildfire burning in the northeast corner of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has consumed more than 185 acres since it was sparked by a lightning strike around noon on Sunday.
Crews from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Georgia Forestry Commission arrived on the scene with Type VI engines, tractor plow units and a helicopter after the fire was reported, working until well after dark on Sunday to establish a plow line to contain the fire.
The Okefenokee Swamp Park stopped selling tickets Sunday because fire crews were staging from the park after the blaze was reported. The swamp park near Waycross is now open for business, said Susan Heisey, the incident commander.
What is now called Compartment Fire No. 1, is considered 90 percent contained but the weather forecast for this week is for extremely hot and dry weather into the holiday weekend, with possible thunderstorms. The goal is to have the fire 100 percent contained in coming days.
“It is very dry,” Heisey said. “The fire is in probably the driest part of the refuge.”
Heavy smoke affected the swamp park on Sunday and low-lying smoke obscured vision on roads after dark, but the smoke was minimal on Tuesday, she said.
Fire crews will be extra vigilant to ensure containment is maintained and any new fires are extinguished as quickly as possible, refuge officials said.
The refuge has imposed a temporary burn ban that includes both wood fires and charcoal grills until further notice. The ban includes the campground at Stephen C. Foster State Park and picnic areas in the Okefenokee Swamp Park and in the refuge, including grilling and campfires by individuals on overnight camping trips on the wilderness canoe trail system.
There are currently six Type VI engines, four tractor plows and a helicopter on the scene to continue to monitor the fire. Crews will remain on the scene until they get some help from Mother Nature.
“Crews will continue to mop up and patrol,” Heisey said. “I feel like they made a lot of progress, but we need some rain to put it out entirely.”