Okefenokee fire almost controlled

Okefenokee fire almost controlled

By Cosby Woodruff –

The West Mims Fire in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp appears to be in its dying stages after burning for more than two months.  The fire, which consumed more than 150,000 acres, did little damage to private property, but the cost to contain it is approaching $50 million.

Susie Heisey, a spokesperson for the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, said the 100 or so remaining firefighters have moved past the mopping-up stage. Now, they are doing what fire officials call suppression repair.  In a nutshell, that is working to restore fire lines built over the past couple of months.As of Monday morning, the fire was 90 percent contained. With heavy rains in the area of the past week and more in the forecast, a different problem faces those few firefighters who remain. Dirt roads leading to fire areas have become too muddy to use.  A month ago, it was the different story. The area was gripped by drought, and more than 1,000 firefighters were engage with the blaze.  More than 700 others were on standby in case the fire threatened private property. Mostly, they were not needed.

Only four structures were burned, and Heisey described those as an abandoned mobile home, a shed and some buildings at a hunting camp.

Because of swamp water levels, fire officials will keep an eye on the blaze, but it isn’t expected to become a threat again.  “The water is below average and what we would like to see,” Heisey said. “But it is coming up, and that is a good thing.”

No civilian injuries were reported, and only one firefighter suffered minor burns in the fire, but the blaze pretty much destroyed tourist season at the swamp.

“The timing of the fire couldn’t have been worse as far as our visitors are concerned,” she said.

April and May are the most popular times to visit the swamp, and the two most popular entrances into the swamp were closed for weeks.  Even now, overnight canoe platforms within the swamp are closed and are expected to remain so for weeks.