Months after lightning started wildfires in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Osceola National Forest, the blazes continue to smolder.
Since April, 478 square miles, or 307,000 acres, have burned in the Honey Prairie Fire in Georgia. In recent days, wind has carried smoke from the blazes back into the greater Jacksonville area. The smoke in Jacksonville on Tuesday was the worst it's been in months, causing low visibilities around town, including over the St. Johns River downtown.
The city of Jacksonville issued an air quality advisory Tuesday afternoon due to elevated levels of fine particulate matter. It's warning residents to avoid exposure by staying inside or refraining from strenuous outdoor activity.
The Honey Prairie Fire in the Okefenokee continues to smolder and creep near the western most portion of the refuge. Firefighters say low humidity, high west winds and low fuel moisture combine to keep the fire active.
The fire has burned mostly swamp and prairie land just north of the Florida-Georgia border, but the charred landscape has taken some of the green out of the pockets of local businesses like the Okefenokee Swamp tours.
Portions of the park have been shut down for weeks at a time since April. Many canoe trails remain closed, and rentals and tours are only allowed for the day.
Since these fires are a natural part of the habitat and it's life cycles, refuge Ranger Art Webster said they don't work to put the fires out, only work to keep them within the park limits and from threatening any homes. At last report, the fire was 76 percent contained.
Webster says admission has dropped to a trickle. In May, their busiest month, their visitors were half of what they were the previous year. In June and July, more than 80 percent fewer people made the trip.
The Georgia Forestry Commission said another fire jumped containment Monday afternoon between Homerville and Fargo and has burned about 650 acres.
The Florida Division of Forestry said it's dealing with small brush fires between 20 and 40 acres in Union County, Clay County near Live Oak Lane and the Duval County line, and the Osceola National Forest.
At Craig Airfield, instructors grounded student pilots Tuesday because of the low visibility. Flight instructor Shannon Harrison said visibility in the air was about three miles, and she said that's dangerous for inexperienced pilots.
"You can look up and you can kind of tell by looking at just the smoke around you," she said. "I mean, you can see over there it's hazy. You can barely see the tower that way."
In the last day or so, Dr. Andrew Schmidt, of Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, said he's heard an increase in complaints from people with lung problems.
"We saw a couple of patients who have underlying lung disease for different reasons coming and saying their symptoms have been worse the last couple of days," Schmidt said. "They've experienced more coughing, a shortness of breath, wheezing."
"You just keep an eye on your children a little better, especially if they have underlying diseases like asthma," Schmidt added. "It may be a better day to keep him inside and watch a movie."