Storms bring rain, but leave behind smoke, wind, drier conditions

Smoke from Okefenokee fire to blow over Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The storms that passed through northeast Florida and southeast Georgia on Thursday afternoon helped douse some of the smaller wildfires that were burning in the area, but some of the areas that needed rain the most didn't get any water at all.

Less than one-tenth inch of rain fell over the Okefenokee Swamp, where 174 square miles have burned since lightning sparked the West Mims Fire on April 6, and the dry, gusty winds left after the front passed could actually spread the fire into unburned areas of the wildlife refuge east of Highway 177. As of Friday, the fire was only 12 percent contained.

"This is a massive fire and it’s putting up a lot of smoke," Weather Authority meteorologist Mark Collins said.

Winds will spread smoke from the massive fire to the southeast this weekend, including over Fernandina Beach, where thousands are expected for the annual shrimp festival, and reach into north Jacksonville on Sunday.

Florida Forest Service and Georgia Forestry are tracking 20 active wildfires burning in Northeast Florida and South Georgia, and many counties in the area are under high fire danger.

Columbia County has just instituted a burn ban, joining Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Nassau, Putnam and Union Counties. Outdoor burning is never allowed without a permit in Duval County.

While the first significant rain in a month was welcome, the storm came with thousands of lightning strikes and strong winds.  While some areas of Duval and St. Johns counties received just over an inch of rain over the past 24 hours, the storms were more intense along the coast, leaving a gap of drier conditions east of U.S. 301.

Baldwin resident William Clark has been on edge with fires burning just miles from his home.

"It’s kind of scary," Clark said. "We’ve had lightning and wind. It’s only going to get worse."

Delores Luke was out shopping Friday so she could stay in and avoid smoke this weekend.

"Being that I have allergies, it’s a big issue," Luke said of the smoke. "I don’t go out unless I have to."

As of midday Friday, there are 96 active wildfires in Florida burning more than 28,000 acres. 

Collins said the next chance for significant rain is a week from Saturday.

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