About 50 residents in the Racepond and Carter communities between Folkston and Waycross evacuated their homes after a once-contained blaze jumped fire lines on Tuesday afternoon.
The nearly 8,000-acre Racepond Fire, once 100 percent contained, rekindled Monday afternoon near Georgia 121, burning 400 acres and forcing the highway to close. Wednesday morning, the road was still closed to all but emergency traffic between U.S. 1 and Hoboken.
Smoke from this fire and the a larger fire burning inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is the main cause of the smoke than descended on the Jacksonville area Tuesday afternoon.
Temperatures near 100 degrees are also complicating life for the firefighters, as did 13 new fires started by lightning Monday afternoon and evening in the forestry district. The storms that brought the lightning dropped almost no rain.
?It?s going to be a long day,?Trent Ingal, fire information officer on the Racepond Fire, told the Waycross Journal-Herald Tuesday morning. ?The wind is already blowing and it?s going to be a hard day."
Law enforcement personnel and fire officials have had a plan since last week for how to quickly evacuate residents if and when the fire threatened.
The Red Cross was to open a shelter at Folkston Elementary School on Okefenokee Drive at 5 p.m. Shelter managers ask that people not come before 5 p.m. The shelter will offer a hot meal, first aid and a place to spend the night.
The Red Cross also has a emergency response vehicle providing emergency crews fighting the fires with drinks and snacks.
To the east in Camden County, a fire burning along U.S. Highway 17 between Waverly and Dover Bluff has forced the road to close. The size of that fire was not immediately known, but a helicopter was dropping water on the blaze.
Jim Burkhart, fire information officer with the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, said the 4,000-foot boardwalk that leads to the Owls Roost observation tower in the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area south of Folkston burned Monday morning but the tower itself was still intact.
The larger Honey Prairie Fire, which has burned 162,191 acres mostly inside the Okefenokee refuge, was considered 75 percent contained on Tuesday, but fire activity was high due to low humidity, higher wind speeds and afternoon thunderstorms. The fire moved around the Okefenokee Visitor Center Monday and pushed all the way north to the Buddy Harris Road, along the refuge boundary.