Firefighters gain upper hand on fire that's blacked 238 square miles

West Mims Fire now 60% contained

NASA satellite photo of burn scar left by the West Mims Fire.
NASA satellite photo of burn scar left by the West Mims Fire. (earthobservatory.nasa.gov)

FOLKSTON, Ga. – Other than one small spot fire south of Highway 94 that was quickly extinguished Thursday, it's been a week without any major growth of the fire that has blackened 152,231 acres -- nearly 238 square miles -- of the Okefenokee Swamp and its immediate surroundings over the last six weeks.

Firefighters said that has allowed them to made excellent progress mopping up fire lines around the area and increase containment of the fire to 60 percent on Friday.

An infrared flight Tuesday night revealed significantly less heat within the fire perimeter, particularly in the southeast corner, the area where fire spread rapidly last week into southern Charlton County, prompting evacuations and closure of St. George Elementary School.

Two inches of rain over the weekend stalled the growth of the blaze and allowed evacuations to be lifted Saturday night and the school to reopen on Monday.

Fire officials said this week's weather was hot and dry, but winds pushed flames toward the west, back into the wildlife refuge.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters from across the country are on the incident team battling the fire, aided by 11 helicopters, four air tankers, 117 fire engines and 66 bulldozers, according to a statement from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which remains closed to the public other than day use from the secondary entrance between Folkston and Waycross.

St. Johns County has extended its burn ban through the summer. All other counties in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia are also under temporary burn bans other than Duval, which never allows outdoor burning.

Florida remains under a state of emergency that Gov. Rick Scott declared earlier this year due to extreme fire danger. Florida Forestry said Thursday that there were currently 96 active wildfires in the state burning 40,176 acres.