St. George, Georgia under a mandatory evacuation due to wildfires

Published: May. 6, 2017 at 7:05 PM EDT
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Sunday, May 7, 2017

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) — The Latest on wildfires spreading in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for all St. George residents in southern Georgia.

Charlton County said in a news release Sunday evening that, "First responders are NOT coming door to door, because they are fighting this approaching fire to try to save homes."

The shelter for St. George evacuees has been moved to the Camden County Recreation Center.

Charlton County schools have been closed for Monday.

A total of 129,856 acres (52,550 hectares) has been burned since the fire was reported April 6.

The fire was started by a lightning strike.

3:15 p.m.

Firefighters in southern Georgia are battling to keep a fire in a wildlife refuge from spreading amid unfavorable weather conditions.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge says more than 500 personnel are working to contain the fire and that 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) have been consumed by fire in the past two days. A total of 129,856 acres (52,550 hectares) has been burned since the fire was reported April 6.

Some 79 people have been evacuated from the unincorporated community of St. George. Officials say wind gusts and dry conditions were raising the risk of spreading the fire.

Some road closures and burn bans are in effect in the area.

The fire was started by a lightning strike.

10:40 a.m.

A fire official says a wildfire in the Okefenokee Swamp is continuing to spread in southern Georgia.

Spokesman John Nichols of the West Mims Fire Incident Command team says the size of the wildfire has increased by 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) early Sunday. He says the fire in total has covered 129,856 acres (52,550 hectares) as winds are pushing it southeast toward the St. George community.

Several dozen people in St. George have already been evacuated, but a county administrator couldn't immediately say how many residents might be ordered to leave the newly affected area.

The wildfire was sparked by lightning April 6 and has since burned more than 150 square miles (388 square kilometers) on public lands.

Nichols says there have been no reported injuries. He says 12 percent of the fire has been contained. He projects the fire will be contained and controlled by Nov. 1, depending on the weather.

1:47 a.m.

Several dozen people in Georgia's southernmost county have been evacuated after a wildfire in the Okefenokee Swamp has begun to burn just a few miles from the St. George community.

Saturday's evacuation initially included a sparsely populated rural area of Charleton County from Jim Crawford Loop road south to St. George on the west side of Highway 121. County Administrator Shawn Boatright couldn't immediately say how many residents might be affected in the latter area.

The wildfire started by lightning April 6 and has since burned more than 150 square miles (389 sq. kilometers) on public lands. It has burned almost entirely within the Okefenokee refuge boundaries — and some public forestland in north Florida — for the past month, but escaped fire breaks around the refuge Friday and has burned an estimated 1,000 acres on private land.

Earlier Saturday the St. George emergency manager said the entire unincorporated community of about 2,000 people was under a mandatory evacuation order, according to West Mims Public Information Officer Michael Davis.

Davis said the emergency manager later clarified that the evacuation was not mandatory and that only the people in the homes closest to the fire were asked to leave. The fire is now within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the community, Davis said.

The area, on the Georgia-Florida line, is also under a dense smoke advisory that is expected to impact visibility in the towns of St. George, Callahan, Ratliff and northern Duval County near the Jacksonville International airport.

A temporary shelter has been opened in the gymnasium at the Folkston Elementary School. Boatright said it will stay open indefinitely.

"We're not sure what's going to happen right now, so it's open until further notice," he said.

He encouraged residents to bring whatever personal items they might need for an extended shelter stay.

(Copyright 2017. Associated Press)