Wildlife refuge fire forces evacuations in southeast Georgia
A wildfire in Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has forced dozens of nearby residents to leave their homes, authorities said on Sunday, adding that the blaze might not be fully contained for months.
About 130,000 acres (52,609 hectares), or about a quarter of the refuge, have already burned, said Melanie Banton, a spokeswoman for firefighters and park officials battling the West Mims Fire, which began on April 6.
Most of the fire is within the refuge, which straddles Georgia’s southeast border with Florida, but it is encroaching on private land. No injuries have been reported.
A shelter has been set up in a gymnasium in Folkston, Georgia for 79 residents in the tiny town of St. George, Georgia who were told on Saturday to evacuate, Banton said.
Shifting winds have helped spread the fire, which was 12 percent contained as of Sunday morning, Banton said. She added that it could take until November before the blaze was fully contained.
While much of the wildlife refuge is marshland and swamp, parts of it are prairie and wooded land. It is home to black bears, alligators and sandhill cranes.
Six years ago, a wildfire burned more than 300,000 acres (121,406 hectares) of the 407,000-acre refuge, said Mark Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the refuge.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Paul Simao)