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Wildfire on US refuge doubles in size in less than a week

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) — A wildfire on public lands near the Georgia-Florida state line has blackened 115 square miles (300 sq. kilometers) after doubling in size within a few days, officials said Wednesday.

Sustained winds up to 8 mph (13 kph) were expected to keep pushing flames Wednesday into areas of swamp parched by drought inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where a lightning strike sparked the blaze April 6.

The fire has spread rapidly since the weekend, when the firefighting command team reported its area as 56 square miles (145 sq. kilometers) on Sunday.

“There is expected to be more fire growth in the coming days,” said Susan Granbery of the Georgia Forestry Commission. “The fuels are very dry. In some cases some of the fire’s flanks have gone into moister soils and it helps to slow them down. But it’s going to continue to grow even in those moister areas.”

Granbery said the fire has been moving toward the refuge’s main entrance and headquarters at Folkston and could soon come within a mile of the eastern refuge boundary. Residents of neighboring Charlton County were warned days ago to pack clothes and essential belongings in case evacuations are needed.

More than 470 firefighters and support personnel are working to keep the fire from escaping the refuge and burning private land. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, otherwise prefers to allow the fire to burn. Naturally occurring fire keeps the swamp from becoming overgrown, which over time would convert it to uplands.

Sprinklers and sheets of fire-resistant wraps are being used to protect a historic pioneer home, boardwalks and campsites within the refuge.

The Okefenokee refuge covers a vast 635 square miles (1,645 sq. kilometers) in southeast Georgia. Fire commanders have estimated the fire could burn until November.

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