Authorities in Georgia issued a mandatory evacuation order for all St. George County residents on May 7 as the West Mims Wildfire spread towards homes. Residents in Nassau County, across the border in Florida, are also under advisory that evacuation orders may be coming. The fire was initially sparked by a lightning strike in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on April 6 and has now expanded to 129,856 acres. In addition to the evacuations, St. George, Callahan, Ratliff and northern Duval County near the Jacksonville International airport are under a smoke advisory warning, which extends to several road closures due to lack of visibility.

Fire in Okefenokee (Mindy Gautreaux/U.S. Forestry Wildfire Service)

For the past month, the fire has been isolated to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge but over the weekend, weather conditions caused the fire to burn 11,000 acres within two days. Over 600 first responders from 36 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington DC are fighting the fire, which was just 12 percent contained on May 9. A shelter has been set up at the Camden County Recreation Center for the 79 St. George residents that were forced to evacuate and all schools in St. George and the neighboring Charlton County were closed on Monday. John Nichols, spokesman for the West Mims Fire Incident Command, projects that the fire will be fully contained by November 1.

Georgia has been ravaged by wildfires over the past year. In November 2016, the Georgia Forestry Commission reported that there were 10 “significant” fires throughout North Georgia, burning over 27,000 acres. Those fires were fueled in large part by droughts that created desert-like conditions. The most significant of these fires was the Rough Ridge Fire which burned nearly 20,000 acres, though contained to wildland areas, with smoke impacting Atlanta 90 miles away.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Okefenokee Wildfire Spreads, Forces Evacuations in Georgia – CNN
  2. George, Georgia Under a Mandatory Evacuation Due to Wildfires – WRDW-TV
  3. Fire Continues to Scorch Georgia Wildlife Refuge; Residents Evacuated – CBS News
  4. More Communities Evacuated as West Mims Fire Grows – Firstcoast News
  5. Georgia Wildfires Burn Thousands of Acres of Land – WSB-TV
  6. Wildfires Continue as Drought Reaches Desert-like Levels – 11 Alive Atlanta
  7. North Georgia Wildfire: Massive Blaze Reaches Nearly 20,000 Acres – Dacula Patch