Waycross, Ga. USA — Authorities warned locals Tuesday it would be a while before crews can extinguish vast wildfires that have burned more than 135 square miles of forest and swampland in southeast Georgia in two weeks.
“This is a long-term battle,” acting Georgia Forestry Commissioner Robert Farris said. “This is not going to be over at the end of the week or very shortly here.”
Firefighters have contained about 64 percent of the vast Ware County fire that has scorched 87,000 acres of drought-stricken forest and Okefenokee Swamp land since it ignited when a fallen tree struck live power lines April 16. The fire has destroyed 21 homes, but there have been no deaths or serious injuries.
The fire is Georgia’s largest since state record-keeping began in 1957, Farris said.
After an update on the fires in Waycross, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday he would continue seeking federal disaster money to help offset the estimated $18 million cost to fight the blazes.
“We do what it takes and we do the accounting later,” Perdue said. “When you’re fighting fire, it’s not a time to balance your checkbook.”
Perdue also said authorities are certain some smaller fires close to the main blaze were set by arsonists.
Farris said investigators are looking into six fires they consider suspicious including one that broke out Saturday near a fire command post. Farris said a wildland arson investigations team has arrived to begin looking for evidence.
In nearby Atkinson County, schools were closed Tuesday and about eight homes had to be evacuated as a smaller wildfire grew to 4,200 acres. It was burning in a peat bog about 20 miles west of the main Ware County blaze.
The cause was under investigation, but arson was not suspected.
Despite ongoing challenges of extreme drought conditions, no rain in the forecast and shifting winds, firefighters were making progress and strengthening fire breaks plowed around the larger blaze, forestry commission spokesman Byron Haire said.
He said that most of the new acres burned were inside the Okefenokee Swamp, an ecological environment that actually benefits from fires.