WAYCROSS, Ga. - Three weeks after the largest wildfire on record in Georgia ignited when a tree fell on a power line, the area of forest and swampland scorched by the blaze has surpassed 100,000 acres - or 156 square miles.
Sustained winds of 20 mph from the northeast Monday pushed the fire deeper into the Okefenokee Swamp, giving firefighters a chance to fortify fire breaks at the swamp's edge to keep flames from spreading to nearby communities in Ware and Charlton counties.
Lightning strikes from weekend thunderstorms started three new fires in the swamp, but the storms failed to bring rain to ease the extreme drought conditions feeding the fire in southeast Georgia.
"The fire areas themselves got next to nothing, just a little bit of sprinkles," said David Spear, a spokesman for the firefighters' joint information center. "You need days and days of heavy soaking rain to have any appreciable effect."
Spear said the fires caused by lightning were near the center of the Okefenokee and posed no immediate threat to people living outside the swamp.
Officials said Monday the wildfire had blackened 100,420 acres. A day after the fire started three weeks ago on April 16, it had spread to just 10,000 acres.
The Georgia Forestry Commission says the vast wildfire was caused by a fallen tree striking a power line, but the agency suspects arsonists may have started six smaller fires that later flared up nearby.
A team of arson specialists has been called in to investigate the suspicious fires.
Meanwhile, a separate wildfire burning in a peat bog in neighboring Atkinson County has burned 5,800 acres. That fire was 80 percent contained Monday, Spear said.
Residents of about dozen homes remained evacuated from the community of Racepond near the swamp's eastern border in Charlton County. County officials evacuated the tiny community about a week ago as the fire spread to within two miles of people's homes.
Winds blowing the flames away from Racepond on Monday gave firefighters a chance to strengthen fire breaks near its homes by setting fire to brush between the main blaze and the community, said Russell Hubright, a spokesman for the firefighting team working in the Okefenokee. "We're making plans for when the wind shifts and the fire in the swamp tries to come out," Hubright said. "Once you get a fire in there with so much heat and a huge flame front, it's very hard to stop." AP-CS-05-07-07 1526EDTcomments powered by Disqus