900 firefighters battling GA wildfire

More than 150 square miles blackened, fire 75 percent contained.

BY P.J. HELLER | WAYCROSS, Ga. | May 4, 2007

Georgia Forestry Commission firefighter and public information officer Bryon Haire inspects fire line near Okefenokee Swamp.

More than 900 firefighters continued Thursday to battle a major wildfire in southeast Georgia that has now blackened more than 150 square miles.

Officials said the fire, which began in Ware County more than two weeks ago, was 75 percent contained. It has so far burned 96,456 acres.

A 20 percent chance of rain was forecast for Friday. However, the forecast also called for winds of 10 to 15 mph which could hinder efforts to further contain the blaze.

Other fires were still burning in nearby Brantley, Atkinson and Charlton counties.

Some of the fires were suspected to be arson, prompting state officials to offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone setting the fires.

Mandatory evacuation orders for about a dozen homes in a rural area of Charlton County remained in effect.

In Atkinson County, the Roundabout Swamp fire was threatening about 25 homes. Another 10 homes were evacuated, according to news reports. An emergency shelter was opened at the Covenant Christian Church in Douglas.

The fire has burned some 5,900 acres and was less than 50 percent contained, officials said. The fire was burning in a peat bog which can burn deep into the ground making it difficult to extinguish.

A blaze which flared up again last week in Brantley County has burned 1,300 acres and was reported 50 percent contained.

Public schools, which have been opened and closed repeatedly due to smoky conditions, were scheduled to be open Friday in Ware, Charlton and Atkinson counties. Schools in Pierce County were closed for a scheduled holiday.

A stretch of US Highway 1 between Ware County and Charlton County remained closed. Some state routes in the affected counties also were closed.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has declared a state of emergency for 21 counties in southeast Georgia affected by the fires. The cost of fighting the blaze so far has been estimated at $18 million.

The fire has burned 21 homes. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

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