Nassau County prepares as massive fire advances

County tells residents west of CR 121 to prepare to evacuate

CALLAHAN, Fla. – Residents on the Georgia side of the state line have already evacuated as a massive fire spilling out of the Okefenokee Swamp approaches the Charlton County towns of St. George and Moniac. 

Nassau County Emergency Management has advised residents living between County Road 121 and the St. Marys River to prepare to evacuate in case the fire nears the Florida-Georgia border.

The fire started by lightning in the Okefenokee Swamp five weeks ago began rapidly spreading outside the wildlife refuge over the weekend. It grew another 3,400 acres Tuesday, totaling 144,000 acres -- 225 square miles -- by Wednesday.

Despite more than 700 firefighters from Georgia, Florida and across the nation were battling the fire, the fire is only 12 percent contained.

Emergency Management Director Billy Estep activated its local Incident Management Team and called up additional resources "to ensure that the agency is fully prepared and able to respond should the fire further advance toward Nassau County.

Forestry officials said it's not likely that the fire will jump the St. Marys River, but that's of little comfort to residents in nearby in Bryceville who dealt with a major wildfire, evacuations and loss of property in March.

"We weren't affected by the last fire we had and we are hoping it's the same with this," resident Paul Kittrell said.

Though some residents said that they would just spray their homes with a hose, which officials do not recommend, many have already made arrangements to evacuate. David Rhoden help his parents evacuate their home off CR 121 on Tuesday evening.

"(We're packing up) a lot of my mom and dad's pictures, memorabilia, in case something does happen. Of course, the two dogs -- one's in my truck and the other is in my daughter's car," Rhoden said. 

Jess McEachern said he hopes there's enough manpower to stop the fire and he's not leaving -- yet.

"I can only load so much on a four-wheeler. And in in our yard, there's not a whole bunch of trees by the house, so if it gets to the yard then hopefully it doesn't hit the house," McEachern said. "I'm just hoping and praying, that's all."

If you only have 10 minutes to evacuate, forestry officials said, remember the five P's: People, pets, personal prescriptions, personal computers and personal papers. 

Nassau County Fairgrounds on U.S. 1 in Callahan was opened for residents who need a place to move their livestock.

In addition, Nassau County Animal Services has established a "West Mims Fire Farm and Livestock Help" Facebook page dedicated to putting those who need help moving or housing threatened livestock in touch with residents willing to help transfer or temporarily house the displaced animals. 

The National Weather Service has issued a Dense Smoke Advisory for inland Nassau County on Wednesday, so those watching the fire could also smell it. 

For some, that brings health concerns.

"We try to stay inside," said Paul Kittrell, who has breathing issues. "They drew three liters of fluid off my left lung. Now they're saying my heart isn't beating as hard as it's supposed to."