USA — After six months of burning, the Honey Prairie Fire continues to burn underground in the peat. It is three to four inches deep and toppling trees left and right. The Honey Prairie Fire started April 19 and was officially declared out on the surface on Oct. 1.
There are no visible open fires currently. The danger now is that we are still under extreme drought and because there is a high incidence of lightning, the fire could start again, said Art Webster, information officer at the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in a telephone interview.
It is unknown how long the fire will last. Rain has come and gone but barely made a dent on the fire. Since Sept. 20, only three inches of rain has been recorded for the west side of Okefenokee near the fire.
The Okefenokee Swamp is the headquarters for the Suwannee River. The US Geological survey river gage near US 441 in Fargo indicated a 9.6 cubic feet per second of water flow on Oct. 27. The average flow over the past 78 years was 894 cubic feet per second.
The river gage value is at 17 cubic feet per second the last time I checked, which rose a little, but the mean should be about 483 cubic feet per second, said Webster. It will take quite a bit of water from Suwanee River, but once the water starts to flow, it will help.
We need a storm to dump at least six to eight inches of rainfall over the entire swamp to bring the water level up and extinguish the fire, said Steve Abbott, incident commander in a press release. The US Drought Monitor indicates that most of Georgia including the Okefenokee Swamp is in an extreme drought. NOAA predicts that the drought will continue through January, making it unlikely that rain will extinguish the underground peat fire.
According to Brad Ballard, Assistant Park Manager of Steven Fosters State Park in Georgia, in a telephone interview, Fire originally started on the west side, it is still burning but it is no longer in the area. People are still coming to the park and the wildlife is not affected here. I still see lots of bears, turkeys and deer.
The effect on recreation and tourism concerned officials, as well as the effect on the environment. The park was closed for 51 days during this summer where we heavily rely on visitors for the entire year. We cannot run boats for boat tours because of the drought and the water level. We have recently purchased lower water running boats, so that should help, said Martin Bell General Manager of the Suwanee Recreational Area (Headquarters of National Wildlife Refuge) in a telephone interview. We are the only entrance that has train tours during the Christmas holiday. We will be doing train tours 17 nights during December for the viewing of the festive lights.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, firefighters must be vigilant as the fire can still flare up. It passed across the eastern boundary of the refuge on May 9, but firefighters contained it. The fire settled for about a month then grew and burned a few thousand acres of private timber. On June 13, it spread again and came within 500 feet of the visitors center of the swamp. A Sept. 12 flare up quickly grew to 1,350 acres.
Since lightning started the Honey Prairie Fire, it has burned about 483 square miles. How much is burning beneath the surface is unknown.