By Baker Owens –
From a simple lightning strike in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on April 6, a wildfire in south Georgia has now grown to 143,893 acres. What exactly does that mean? For some perspective, that equals approximately 224 square miles. The city of Atlanta is approximately 134 square miles. The North Georgia fires last fall/winter, the Rough Ridge Fire and Rock Mountain Fire, burned approximately 50,000 acres.
As of yet, this fire is not near a record. Some readers may remember the Bugaboo Scrub Fire in 2007, smoke from that fire eventually filtered over Atlanta and it was bad enough to cause some asthma sufferers to seek refuge indoors. That fire was over 600,000 acres or nearly 950 square miles. Rhode Island is 1,200 square miles. The Bugaboo, named for the island struck by lightning, ultimately was deemed the largest fire in Georgia history and the largest fire in the lower 48 states in a century.
According to the Incident Information System – the national system for wildfires and all-hazards incidents – the current West Mims Fire “made a push west of St. George, south of GA 94 and north of Road 8 between the two fingers of the fire.” Focused on containment, firefighters and fire managers are currently working to improve and construct additional firelines. Tractor-plows are constructing the lines as helicopters and air tankers drop fire retardant on strategic areas. A converted DC-10 with the apparently official title of “Very Large Air Tanker” (VLAT) dropped two loads of 12,000 gallons of retardants.
The high on Thursday is expected to be 98 degrees with minimum relative humidity at around 20 percent. Wind gusts up to 20 mph “will create favorable conditions for increased fire behavior approaching Red Flag conditions.” There is a chance of thunderstorms this weekend but that could also mean gusty winds. It could also mean gusty winds but no rain.
Firefighters have streamed in from across the country to help fight the blaze. Now totaling more than 725 individuals, they have come from as far away as California and firefighters from North Georgia have come down as well, having experienced so recently what it takes to control a fire of this magnitude. Parts of the town of St. George have been evacuated and other areas are under threat of evacuation. The Nassau County Florida Emergency Management director has warned residents to be prepared to protect their property and consider moving family, pets and livestock in advance in case of an immediate evacuation order.
South Georgia remains in a D2 drought threat, meaning Severe Drought, with little hope in the forecast. Drought conditions and little rain make containing a wildfire that much harder. The fire is increasingly looking like it will burn throughout the summer and into the fall.
Fire managers are holding a public meeting in Folkston on Thursday night at 6:00 p.m.
To stay up to date on the latest info, see here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5153/
Also, for footage of the VLAT dropping 12,000 gallons of retardant – see this tweet from the Georgia Forestry Commission: https://twitter.com/GaTrees/status/862443061288345600