Evacuations broaden as wildfires threaten small communities


FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) — Officials extended a mandatory evacuation to other communities on Monday as a wildfire near the Georgia-Florida line threatened small communities on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge supervisory ranger Susan Heisey said in a statement the small Charlton County communities of Moniac and Canady Loop have been ordered to evacuate. She said the fire had crossed Ga. Highway 94 south of the refuge but did not know how many people have evacuated the area.

The unincorporated community of St. George, south of Folkston, already was under a mandatory evacuation order and Charlton County schools closed Monday.

The fire was started by a lightning strike April 6 and has burned 129,856 acres (52,550 hectares). Wind gusts and dry conditions are raising the risk of it spreading.

Some 535 personnel have been assigned to fight the fire, along with 10 helicopters, 55 wildland fire engines, bulldozers and other equipment, the statement said. The fire is 12 percent contained.

Television stations in northeast Florida reported smoke could be seen across Nassau, Clay and Duval counties, and officials urged residents to stay indoors.

Emergency Management officials in Nassau County, which is on the Florida-Georgia line, are urging residents in the St. Mary’s River area to start preparing in case they’re asked to evacuate.

Many counties in the area also have issued burn bans.

In a separate wildfire, three schools near Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast canceled classes Monday due to smoky conditions. Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the state is in the “midst of its worst wildfire season in years — with no end in sight.”

Putnam said in a news release that nearly 125 active wildfires were burning in Florida on Monday morning.