Honey Prairie Fire declared out year later

Plumes of smoke rise from the Okefenokee Swamp.
Plumes of smoke rise from the Okefenokee Swamp.

Nearly a year after the Honey Prairie Fire began burning in the Okefenokee Wildlife National Refuge, the wildfire has been declared out.

Last week was the final test to see if there was any life remaining in the fire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said.

Water levels have risen in the swamp, with the Jones Island weather station receiving 1.39 inches of precipitation in January, 5.15 inches in February and 6.41 inches in March, officials said.

Even so, the Georgia Forestry Commission fire danger ratings ranged from high to very high for the fire area throughout the last week. Data from the weather station indicated that relative humidity reached a low of 16 percent. The average wind speed was 4 mph, with the highest gust reaching 19 mph.

These were prime conditions for the Honey Prairie Fire to flare up if it had any heat left, officials said.

Fire management Officer Mike Housh declared the fire out Monday. The lightning-sparked fire in the Okefenokee Swamp burned about 309,200 acres, or 483 square miles, since it started April 28 of last year.

Thousands of firefighters, refuge neighbors and businesses contributed to the safe suppression of the fire. At the peak of fire activity on June 27, the Honey Prairie Complex had grown to 283,673 acres and had 202 engines, 112 dozers, 20 water tenders, 12 helicopters, and six crews with a total of 1,458 personnel assigned.

Over the duration of the fire, there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Firefighters did an excellent job containing the fire within the boundaries of the 402,000 acre refuge, officials said.

Only 18,206 acres burned outside the refuge.

"We are very appreciative of the cooperation we received to suppress the fire," refuge manager Curt McCasland said.

Cooperators included, but were not limited to, the Georgia Forestry Commission; Florida Forest Service; U.S. Forest Service; Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners; Rayonier; Superior Pine; Langdale; Toledo Manufacturing Company; Georgia Emergency Management Agency; Charlton, Ware and Clinch counties' Fire Departments; the cities of Folkston, Fargo, Waycross and Homerville; Stephen C. Foster State Park; Okefenokee Adventures; and Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Recovery from the fire is underway, officials said.

"We are pursuing the rebuilding of the main boardwalk on Chesser Island," McCasland said. "I am confident we can completely rebuild the boardwalk, but we will be implementing changes that will ensure we can efficiently and safely protect the boardwalk from future fires. This includes the use of fire resistant pilings to minimize the cost to repair from future fire damage.

"The well near the entrance to the boardwalk will also be refurbished, or a new well drilled, and the boardwalk will be plumbed to provide sufficient water and pressure to irrigate around the boardwalk during fires," McCasland added. "Damage assessments for repairs to Owl's Roost Tower, Ridley's Island Trail boardwalks, the Cane Pole Trail overlook, the shelters at Big Water, and the massive canoe trail system cleanup have been submitted."