A fast-moving wildfire is spreading and has charred over 100,000 acres of land on the Georgia-Florida border. The majority of the fire has been confined to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, but surrounding communities were told to evacuate Sunday and Monday.
More than 600 people are fighting the blaze, which is being pushed southeast by strong wind gusts and fueled by dry air. Ten helicopters, 59 fire engines, five bulldozers, 37 tractor plows and two 20-person hotshot crews have been called in to help, according to InciWeb.
The fire gained 4,000 acres on Sunday alone and was only 12 percent contained at that time. Crews are plowing containment lines on the south side of the fire to try to stop the spreading.
The West Mims Fire is obvious on satellite imagery thanks to the dense foliage it’s burning through. Thick smoke trails to the southeast of the burn site. GOES-16, NOAA’s new weather satellite, is monitoring the fire.
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) May 8, 2017
The fire was triggered by lightning on April 6, according to InciWeb, and covered 134,000 acres by Monday evening.
Unfortunately, the weather is going to remain hot and dry through the end of the week. Temperatures will approach 90 degrees during the afternoons this week and humidity is expected to drop below 20 percent, which is considered the critical threshold for firefighting.
To make things more difficult, the region is prone to sea breezes, which tend to be unpredictable. During the day, the land heats up but the air over lakes and oceans remains cool. This sets up a small-scale air circulation that blows from cold to warm. At night, that process reverses. And the more the wind changes direction, the more difficult it is for crews to contain the fire.
Firefighters may have an opportunity to get a better handle on the blaze on Thursday or Friday when winds shift to come from the south, at which point flames will be pushed over land that has already burned. Without fresh fuel, the fire may be easier to control.
— Letisha Bereola (@LetishaANjax) May 8, 2017
Air quality is poor in areas southeast of the fire. Smoke has wafted as far south as Jacksonville, Fla., where it hangs over the city as a brown, hazy cloud.