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Fire retardant accidentally dropped on Lake City, officials say

Substance meant for Okefenokee wildfire can cause irritation if inhaled

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LAKE CITY, Fla. – An air tanker hauling retardant Tuesday to help fight a 20,000-acre wildfire in the Okefenokee Swamp accidentally dropped its load on part of Lake City, officials said.

The retardant, which is a reddish-colored substance (75%-85% monoammonium phosphate), can cause nasal and respiratory tract irritation if it's breathed in, officials said.

But the substance, a mixture of powdered and granular components, can be removed with water and has little or no odor, officials said.

According to authorities, the tanker, which was supporting the West Mims Fire, reported about 12:40 p.m. Tuesday that it could not release the gate that held its retardant, and as it was flying back to base, one of the gates malfunctioned and dropped the substance over a 5-mile stretch that included an area along the east side of Lake City close to the airport and south of Highway 90.

Individuals exposed to the retardant should move to a clean air source, officials said.

The plane is currently at the airport in Lake City and will have a full maintenance check to make sure the gates are working correctly before it's used again, officials said.

Anyone who was affected by the incident and is looking for additional information should call the West Mims Fire Information Line at 904-452-4627.

As of Monday morning, the so-called West Mims Fire had consumed 20,160 acres and was only 3 percent contained.

Residents on the western edge of the Okefenokee Swamp are being warned to prepare for potential evacuations.